Continue pruning spring-blooming shrubs (azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, etc.) if desired for reshaping. This task needs to be accomplished by July Fourth to allow the resulting new growth to mature in time for winter (and to set buds for next spring). Shear azaleas (as opposed to selective removal of branches) only if you prefer underperforming plants; they will not retain the hyper-tailored shape, and if you shear again late in summer you will eliminate many of 2010's flowers.
Prune evergreens now or wait till cool weather in October.
Finish fertilizing shrubbery. Later applications will result in growth that may be too immature to survive winter.
Start deadheading (removing spent flowers that are turning into seed pods). Lilacs and rhododendrons are much more presentable when deadheaded, and none of the shrub's energy is diverted to seed maturation. Columbine, Siberian iris and doronicum will self-sow if not deadheaded. Tall-bearded iris stems invite rot and borers if not cut at the base. Consistent deadheading of annuals ensures consistent flowering through the season.
Fool columbine seed into thinking it's 2010. Germination is better after seeds have been chilled (e.g., experienced winter). Collect ripe seeds as soon as you can (they are black and are ready before the pods open and dry). Sow in damp sterile medium in small pots and refrigerate for a month in a sealed plastic bag. Then remove to a position that won't bake in the sun. By fall, you should have plants ready to go into the garden.
To encourage a second flush of roses in September, prune deftly now. Use sharp clippers and cut a quarter-inch above an outward-facing mature leaf - one with five leaflets, not three.
Keep the compost cooking, not stinking. All the rain plus all the green matter (grass clippings, broccoli trimmings, watermelon rinds) need dry material to keep things from getting rank. If you don't have dry tree leaves from last fall in some corner, leave a mowing of grass on the lawn to dry fully before adding. Then rake up and add. If desperate, buy a bale of straw and mix into the compost or use some noncompacted output of a paper shredder (avoid slick paper with lots of color ink).
Pinch chrysanthemums and asters again to promote additional branching. There should be time to pinch one last time in early July.
Pinch coleus to encourage branching and to prevent formation of the pointless little sprays of tiny boring flowers.
Plant another row of snap beans for late harvest. Sow more basil seed so that when early plantings bolt (insisting on flowering despite pinching), you'll have tasty young plants coming along. Last call to sow seeds of carrots, beets and turnips.
Plant another set of gladiolus corms.
Tidy up old-fashioned bleeding hearts by cutting back substantially. The foliage will ripen and mature (like daffodils), but there's minimal harm done by cutting them now, even to the ground. The thick, tuberous root will carry them through till next spring.
Employ the Old World technique of pea-staking to prop up ornamentals that, with all the rain, are beginning to sprawl. Gather twiggy forked switches of varying lengths, from tree droppings and new pruning (strip leaves off the latter). Push the main stem into the soil, surround the base of flopping daisies, salvias, etc., so the twigs hold the plant in more erect fashion. In a few days, the plant will straighten, leaves will reorient, and new growth will obscure the pea-stakes.
Prepare for slugs. Strategies include beer traps and the simple plank-on-the-ground technique (lift in the morning; scrape off congregating gastropods and send to their demise). For users of chemicals, commercial slug bait, if applied as the label instructs, really works, but it can also do a number on pets.
Ignore bulb catalogs for the time being, with this exception: saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). The expensive spice is the dried stamen of this fall-blooming crocus. Bulb companies seem to run out of it early every year. It's easy to grow in this region (give it sun) and will impress your dinner guests.
Mark your calendar for these specialty plant sales, where the selection (often from members' collections) is unparalleled and experts are on hand with reliable tips:
Delaware Valley Iris Society, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 18, Jenkins Arboretum, 631 Berwyn-Baptist Rd., Devon, www.dvis-ais.org.
Delaware Valley Daylily Society, 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 22, Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli Pike & Route 30, Paoli, www.delvalhosta.org.
Hardy Plant Society, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 22, Freedoms Foundation, 1601 Valley Forge Rd., Valley Forge, www.hardyplant.org.
- Michael Martin Mills