As the days grow longer and warmer, June brings a thrilling abundance of color, fruits, and veggies to our Pacific Northwest gardens — as well as plenty of other reasons to celebrate. Not only is it National Pollinator Month, but here in Portland, we also lift up our favorite flower during the city's annual Rose Festival. And on June 21, we will officially kick off the start of a new season with the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. There’s so much to do to get ready, so keep reading for a bit of inspiration!
Gardening in the Ground
Now is the time to plant flowers for seasonal color that will stand up to the heat of summer. Sunflowers are always a favorite here in the Pacific Northwest, and by sowing a few seeds each week, you can enjoy a succession of blooms from late summer all the way through fall when the leaves begin to turn. Of course, you don’t have to delay your gratification quite so much if you don’t want to: As cool season annuals begin to fade this month, consider swapping them out for heat-loving zinnias, dahlias, lantana, and portulacas for an immediate infusion of color in your seasonal beds and containers. And for the wider landscape, it’s hard to beat summery perennials like salvias, echinaceas, lavender, crocosmia, rudbeckias, gaura, and hardy geraniums that will return year-after-year.
Of course, no summer garden would be complete without at least one rose — especially here in Rose City! These queens of the summer begin to flower in late May and really come into their own in June. We especially love the classic English varieties from David Austin for their amazing scent and flower form. To ensure the optimal floral display, be sure to watch your roses for signs of disease and pests, stay on top of watering, and feed them with E.B. Stone Rose & Flower Food once a month through September for an extra boost.
Although we’ve enjoyed a relatively cool and wet spring so far, it’s important not to take these conditions for granted and neglect to pay attention to the watering needs of our gardens this month — and not just our roses! As the heat of summer approaches and the rain clouds dissipate, our Portland clay soils will begin to dry out more quickly, making it important to offer supplemental water in our gardens. If you aren’t sure if your plants are in need of a drink, you can always perform a quick soil test. Just pick a clear spot and dig down to around 5 inches. If the soil is still moist to the touch, there’s no need to drag out the hose just yet.
In general, watering deeply but infrequently is preferable to more frequent but shallow irrigation. Deep watering will help your plants develop more robust root systems, in turn helping them to be more resilient in the face of extreme temperatures. On the topic of irrigation, it is a good idea to test your sprinkler system this time of year to confirm that your sprinkler heads are adequately reaching all areas of your garden before the heat of summer reveals any gaps in coverage. And to help reduce water evaporation — as well as suppress weeds — consider using an organic mulch around your plants!
Apart from the usual garden maintenance like weeding, there are a couple of other things to stay on top of. In May, we suggested that you trim azaleas and rhodies as they finished flowering, so if you haven’t already done so and are looking to control the size of your shrubs, it’s best to do so as soon possible to allow sufficient time for new buds to form for next season.
Houseplants on Vacation
By mid-June, nighttime temperatures are generally warm enough to let many indoor plants go on an extended holiday in a shady area of your outdoor garden, such as a covered patio or porch. Just be sure to transition them slowly between indoors and out — a process known as “hardening off” — to help them make the change successfully. Our climate may not be sufficiently warm for tropical plants to thrive outdoors year-round, but they will appreciate a taste of life outdoors while they can get it. You will likely need to water your outdoor houseplants more frequently since they will be subjected to hotter extremes and increased air circulation compared to their lives indoors, but they will thank you for letting them out in the wild.
As you spend more time in your garden this month, we encourage you to learn to recognize the wildlife with whom we share our little plots of earth, from hummingbirds to toads and everything in between! And since we celebrate Pollinator Month in June, this is the perfect time to encourage those garden guests that provide beneficial pollination services not only in our gardens, but also the surrounding ecosystem. You'll find several great resources for encouraging natural pollinators elsewhere on our blog, as well as an always-timely selection of pollinator-attracting plants in our Pollinator Buffet display at the Patio.
As you keep an eye peeled for pollinators, you may encounter insect damage to a few plants. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect your prized specimens from less-than-beneficial insects, don’t forget that pests and pollinators may look a lot alike at different stages in their life cycle. Learning to spot the difference is key, and the internet is your best friend in this arena. After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally smush a monarch caterpillar munching on a milkweed plant because you mistakenly thought it was a mere pest!
Speaking of beneficial insects and other creepy crawlies, why not put worms to work for you this summer? Earthworms can create rich compost for your garden by recycling the organic waste from your household, and June is an ideal time to harvest and re-bed a worm bin — or construct one if you don’t have one yet. In this setup, worms munch on your kitchen scraps and leave their castings — which have all the makings of an excellent compost — behind. Make sure to provide your worms with clean, moist bedding like leaves or newspaper strips to keep any lingering odor from entering your kitchen. You will also need to regularly feed your worms with vegetarian, organic waste like vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, grains, and egg shells. (Make sure you don’t give them any egg, as they eat a plant-based diet for the most part!)
For the Kitchen
Many of your veggies will be ready to harvest this month, including artichokes, radishes, leafy greens, and soft fruits like strawberries. (An entire class of strawberries, in fact, is known as June-bearers. For more information on those, check out our handy guide to these fabulous fruits.) Some tomato varieties — especially grafted ones — will also begin to ripen this month, although with our cool spring, look towards July for the true start of our tomato harvest this year. Keep your plants healthy by providing them with plenty of sun and water. Tomatoes require at least 8 hours of continuous sun a day, so finding a bright enough spot will be your main challenge. You will also need to fertilize them often with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer like E.B. Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food. Keeping your plants pruned to 2-4 main stems will promote faster ripening. We also suggest that you use trellises and cages to allow proper air-circulation around your plants to help decrease the risk of fungus and disease.
As the temperatures warm, it’s also a good idea to take preventative measures in your backyard orchard to prevent damage to fruit trees from cherry fruit flies, codling moths, and apple worms — especially if you've had problems in the past. Be proactive by setting out traps or seeding your yard with beneficial insects that like to feed on these summer pests.
Although we may only now be approaching summer, as with sunflowers, it’s not too early to be looking towards the fall. Now is the ideal the time to plant pumpkins and squash for fall and winter harvest. You can also extend your harvest into July and August by sowing chives, garlic, cucumbers, lettuce, and snap beans.
With a little bit of effort, you are sure to enjoy the bounty of your garden this June!