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The Monthly Gardener by Robert Smaus

Tasks for a gloomy month

June 03, 2004|Robert Smaus

MAY TURNED out to be more like June, with jacarandas blooming spectacularly and Southern magnolias losing their leaves a full month early. So will June be summery, like July, or will it be overcast as usual? June has a history of "high clouds," as the weather people like to call them. This gloom makes spring last a little longer, and lets gardeners continue planting and tending to other spring jobs.

Fill in shady spots

Though they will need frequent watering at first, you can plant subtropicals this month, such as bananas, bougainvillea, gingers and hibiscus. You can also plant in shady parts of the garden because the sun and heat are less likely to put stress on plants growing in the shade.

Good candidates for shady spots include shrubs such as abutilon, aucuba, camellia, fatsia, hydrangea, loropetalum and pittosporum tobira and its many varieties. Around these backbone plants, try smaller shade plants such as acanthus, Japanese anemone, aspidistra, bacopa, clivia, coral bells, English ivy, foxglove, ferns, hellebore, lamium, liriope and spider plant.

Fruit fears

Don't panic when you find fruit on the ground. "June drop" is a fairly common phenomena. Some trees thin themselves by shedding excess fruit this month. On deciduous fruit trees, thin fruit so it doesn't touch; there's usually no need to on citrus. Prop up heavily laden branches so they don't break.

Don't over-water trees or the fruit will split. Water for a half-hour or so every three to four weeks. Mound up watering basins if you can and let the water slowly soak in so it doesn't simply run off.

Summer color

It's still possible to put in bedding plants -- in pots or in the ground -- that will bloom for most of summer before they fade away in fall. These include ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, balsam, celosia, bedding dahlia, dusty miller, firetail (chenille plant), gaillardia, gazania, gloriosa daisy, coleus-like iresine, lobelia, marigold, nierembergia, petunia, portulaca, salvia, verbena, vinca rosea (cathrantus) and zinnia. The Blizzard strain of geranium, heliotrope 'Alba', pentas and lantana are tender perennials that love the heat, even far inland.

In the shade, try angel-wing and bedding begonias, coleus, mimulus and impatiens of all kinds, including the recent huge-flowered New Guinea types with colored foliage.

Only by the beach

Gardeners in cooler, moister coastal areas can easily grow fuchsias and tuberous begonias for summer color in somewhat shady parts of the garden. These two old-fashioned plants were incredibly popular in the 1940s and '50s and are again showing up at nurseries.

Both do best if they get some strong light or speckled sun but never a noontime blast. Without good light they bloom poorly. Both also need frequent fertilizing, every two weeks with something like fish emulsion or another gentle fertilizer (to avoid burning them).

Warm friends

Summer's vegetables should be growing strong by now with tomatoes beginning to fill their cages and corn nearly up to that elephant's eye.

Watch for those Buick-sized tomato hornworms. Green in color, they are hard to spot, but if entire branches and leaves begin to disappear, or you see their little black, pellet-like droppings, search harder. Squish them (wear gloves).

Vegetables to plant now include beans, beets, carrots, chayote, corn, cucumber, endive, leaf lettuce (inland, try planting lettuce in the shade of corn or other tall crops), melon, New Zealand spinach, onion, squash, sunflower, Swiss chard, tomato and watermelon. If you want pumpkins for Halloween, plant before June 15.

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