For many gardeners in the South, May is a blur. When June rolls around and the warmest days of summer loom, perhaps we are ready for a short breather. From here on out, many of us become bookend gardeners. We sneak out in the cool of the morning, retreat, and then return in the early evening hours. However you choose to garden, here are a few things to think about as summer firmly arrives.
Go back to the seed stash. The beginning of June is a great time to plant another round of annuals from seed. You can still directly sow into your garden a new crop of zinnias (Zinnia spp. and cvs.), sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), or even basil. Almost all the cucurbits (which include squash and melon) can be direct-seeded now to help ensure a longer cropping cycle. As older plants slow production or develop insect problems, you can replant and get a second crop.
Cut back tall perennials. This is the perfect time to manage the height and manipulate the bloom time of many garden perennials. This is particularly true of some native plants that get tall in the garden and are subject to lodging (toppling over). Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), ironweed (Vernonia spp. and cvs., Zones 4–10), and goldenrod (Solidago spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) are all good candidates for getting haircuts before the end of the month.
Harvest smart. Harvest onions and potatoes when two-thirds of the tops have died down. Clean and store potatoes in a cool, dark place. Allow onions to cure on newspaper in a shady spot, and store them in a dry, airy place. Perhaps areas of your garden where plants were harvested could be used for a second round of planting. Beans might be a good idea for some of these areas.
Cook and fill gaps with herbs. Many culinary herbs are popping up in the garden this time of year. Now is a great time to look for recipes that incorporate anything you might have on hand. Culinary herbs should also still be widely available at most independent garden centers. Look for something new, and incorporate it into vacant spots in your landscape. Or add some herbs to containers that are not quite filled out yet. As basil in the landscape starts to flower this month, pinch off blooms to encourage more leafy growth.
Celebrate the solstice with a full day of gardening. June 20, 2020, is this year’s summer solstice, which marks the longest day of the year. The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). If we were close to the Arctic Circle, we would have 24 hours of sunlight with which to garden as the sun “stood still.” For most of us in the South, we can sneak in about 14 hours of gardening on June 20 if we are truly enthusiastic. Perhaps it is a better day to reflect and celebrate everything that is good and enjoyable. Whatever you choose to do, you will have a long day to make it happen.
Visit other gardens for inspiration. More than anything, enjoy this month. June in the South is when you really start to see tangible evidence of your hard work in the garden. It’s also a great time to visit other gardens and gather ideas as long as you can do so by maintaining social distance and taking health precautions. So this month make a point to visit public gardens if they’re open, to enjoy open private gardens in your area, and to take home some inspiration.
—Andy Pulte is a faculty member in the plant sciences department at the University of Tennessee.