So many big-picture gardening chores are tucked into spring — from cleaning up to planting — that you may feel you've earned a rest now that June's here. But no sitting back and waiting for the flowers to open. June ushers in the heart of gardening season when you must tend your crops to keep them growing happily. Here's a shortlist of important June tasks to get you started.
1. Provide food and water.
By now your crops are in the ground and growing. But that's just the beginning of a gardener's tasks. Those little seedlings need attention to grow big and strong. You'll want to:
- Check the soil in each garden bed on a daily basis and water when it is dry.
- Check the plant leaves for signs of nutrient deficiencies and add fertilizer as needed.
- Supply a side dish of organic fertilizer mid-June.
2. Fight off bad bugs.
Summer is bug season. Some insects provide assistance to your plants by pollinating flowers or attacking destructive bugs. Others just want to eat your plants, either chomping on roots, leaves or blossoms, or sucking juices from the foliage. Because broad-spectrum pesticides take out all bugs, good as well as bad, do not use them. Instead, do these things:
- Check the top and bottom of leaves for signs of insect pests, including eggs and nymphs.
- If you find aphids on the leaves, remove them (with your fingers or a jet of water from the hose) or spray with horticultural oil.
- Pluck off and crush any scarlet lily beetles on your lily plants, including their brown larvae on the leaf undersides.
- Fend off slugs and snails with traps or barriers around your vulnerable plants.
- Find and pick off tomato hornworms (green and white striped caterpillars) from tomato leaves and drown them in a pail of water with vegetable oil on top.
3. Keep weeds down.
Weeds compete for the sun, water, and nutrients your ornamentals and veggies need to thrive. They can also be hosts for pests that hop over to your garden plants. As June rolls out the summer carpet, you want to take these steps to reduce the weed population:
- Add a layer of mulch around shrubs and trees (keeping it a few inches from trunks) and on unplanted ground.
- Mulch veggies with a thick layer of straw, not hay.
- Dig small "wells" around individual plants to allow water to sink in, since surface watering encourages weeds.
- Manually remove weeds as they appear, since the older they get, the harder they are to pull out.
4. Provide for wild birds.
Birds are good for your garden. Many types of wild birds pick off bad bugs and hungry caterpillars from your plants. Hummingbirds are important pollinators of many plants, especially those with funnel-shaped flowers. Attract birds and nurture them in June by doing these things:
- Set up a water station/bird bath and keep it topped up as the weather warms.
- Plant sage to attract hummingbirds and set up a feeder or two as well.
- Plant shrubs with autumn berries now to feed your wild birds through the winter.
5. Support tall plants.
Not every plant can keep standing tall without a little help. Some need to be cut back to grow stronger, while others require staking. Here's what you won't want to forget in June:
- Set up supports for plants like tomatoes, beans, and peas and keep them attached to the supports as they grow.
- Use a trellis to support vining plants that aren't growing near a fence, wall, or tree.
- Attach new shoots of climbers like honeysuckle to their supports with soft ties.
- Trim back tall plants that will bloom in autumn, like asters and helianthus, to make them stockier and stronger; also to increase the number of flower buds.
6. Take out and replace veggies.
Cool-weather vegetables like spinach are likely to bolt in June, if they haven't already. This means that they start producing flowers. Once the plant energy goes to flowering, the foliage turns bitter, and it's time to say goodbye. In June, you want to:
- Pull out bolting plants sooner rather than later.
- Replace them with warm-season seedlings like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
- Succession plant lettuce, kale, and chard to get crops all summer long.
7. Set out hanging baskets.
Hanging baskets aren't limited to flowers anymore. Many gardeners grow vegetables or fruit in hanging containers, including lettuce and strawberries. June is the time to:
- Move any baskets that have been hardening off in the greenhouse into outdoor positions.
- Cut back leggy growth in hanging basket ornamentals.
- Keep the water coming since container soil dries out faster than garden soil.
8. Cut back wilted flowers and foliage.
June is the time to start active deadheading: snipping off blossoms as they wilt to allow others to grow. Deadheading regularly ensures you maximum floral power and keeps down garden detritus. Some plants should be cut back to the ground. You'll want to:
- Deadhead repeat-flowering roses, but leave the seed heads on one-time bloomers for decoration.
- Snip off flower heads and foliage of oriental poppies once they are finished blooming, taking the stems down to ground level to stimulate new foliage.
- Prune out dead stems of vines like evergreen clematis once they have flowered to keep the plant looking good.
- Cut back your hardy geraniums once they finish blooming to encourage new growth.
9. Keep up with compost.
A gardener's compost heap is a veritable treasure box when it comes to providing free organic fertilizer and mulch. If you haven't started a compost heap now's the time to do it. You don't need to buy fancy equipment if you don't want to; just pick a corner and start your compost pile or build your own simple bin. If you have compost going already, June is the time to:
- Turn the compost regularly to keep it aerated.
- Keep adding kitchen scraps and some yard clippings.
- Water the compost heap in dry weather.
10. Fix fruit issues.
Summer fruit from the garden beats almost any dessert on the planet. June's a great time to ensure your harvest by fixing these fruit issues:
- Claim those berries as your own by using nets or row covers to keep birds and squirrels out.
- Prune plum and cherry trees.
- Thin out excess fruit on branches to get bigger and higher quality fruit.
- Provide fruits growing in containers with a high-potash liquid feed.
- Tie down strawberry plant runners to build new plants for the following year.
- Harvest stone fruit as they mature.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.