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This week in your Massachusetts garden & landscape

Week of August 1, 2016 By Ron Kujawski

The drought we’ve experienced this summer – recent rains notwithstanding – prompted me to do an informal survey of herbaceous perennials which seemed unaffected by the sultry weather. Among the most stoic plants I found were yarrow (Achillea species), lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantine), mugwort or wormwood (Artemisia species), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), catmint (Nepeta x faassenii), lavender (Lavandula), and creeping snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum).  If you’re familiar with these plants, you will have noticed that they all have something in common: their foliage is silver or gray. Why are such plants so drought-tolerant? Well, the gray and silver color is due to reflection of sunlight off tiny hairs on the leaves.  This reflection of solar radiation has the effect of cooling the leaves which in turn reduces evaporation of moisture from the leaves.  If in drought..uh, doubt, try silver or gray foliage plants in your flower gardens.

  • Check the vegetable garden daily.  Summer squash and green beans are maturing very rapidly now and need to be picked at least every other day.  Speaking of green beans, my favorite way to preserve the surplus is by pickling them.  Maybe it’s my technique or lack thereof, but I find frozen green beans to be rubbery and canned ones to be mushy.  Pickled ones always come out best for us.
  • Sow seeds of buckwheat in vacant areas of the garden.  This so-called green manure crop contributes organic matter to the soil when turned under, but what I like best about buckwheat is its ability to shade out weeds that would otherwise develop in these areas.
  • Plant kale, if you can find the seeds. Kale planted now will be ready for harvest this fall. If hot weather persists, be prepared to shade the seedlings until they are up several inches.  Kale will also benefit from straw mulch placed around developing plants.
  • Plant a few pots of parsley for the windowsill herb garden.  I used to dig up parsley plants in fall and then pot them for use in winter, but they didn’t always transplant well because of damage to their taproot.  So, now I just sow seeds directly into pots.  Try this with other culinary herbs such as chives, chervil, and basil.  A supplementary light source may be needed to keep these herbs happy in winter.
  • Contact a local church or community agency for information on area food pantries. Even those of us who preserve much of our garden harvest have more than we can handle.  So, why not donate it to a food pantry.  Believe or not, there is a need.
  • Remove the spent blossoms from lady’s mantle (Alchemilla).  This not only makes the plant look tidy but also prevents it from re-seeding itself to the point of becoming a weed.

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