Ron Kukjawski | Garden Journal: Take time to watch the corn grow ...

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Recently, I came across my friend, Seth, standing silently and motionless by the roadside overlooking a corn field, apparently watching the corn grow.

As inactive as that behavior may seem to some, in reality a lot can be learned by simply stopping and looking. How often do we pause to stand or sit quietly in our gardens and landscape to observe the hubbub of activity that is taking place in a seemingly static environment?

Unfortunately, in this day and age of constant bombardment by man-made stimuli, we don't afford ourselves the opportunity to see the intricate details of plant structure beyond "it's green with pretty blue flowers" or the interdependent relationship that exists between plants and animals, especially between plants and insects. You don't need to read a book nor a garden column to learn that it is not just honey bees which are involved in pollinating flowers.

Take time right now, whether it is day or night, to sit in your garden or stand by a corn field and observe a world that is far more complex than you ever imagined. I'll wait ... da-dee-da-da-dee-dum-de-da ... okay, time's up. Move on to these less complex endeavors:

• Prepare to battle Japanese beetles now emerging from the soil where they had spent their formative months as grubs. Application of neem oil provides good control and can be used on food crops, as well as ornamental plants.

• Snip sprigs of lavender now at their peak. Put a few of the flower stems in a small vase and place it next to your workplace for a calming effect when work frustrations build.

• Give dahlias plenty of water throughout the summer since they don't bloom well once exposed to drought. Pinch (ow!) and disbud plants to produce single stems and one flower per stem if you want large showy blossoms to impress friends. If you have no friends, leave the plants alone since they make better garden plants when allowed to develop multiple blossoms.

• Trim and pinch back annual herbs, such as basil and scented geraniums, and perennial herbs, including lemon balm, sage and mints, to keep them bushy and to prevent flowering.

•  Revitalize petunias for another burst of bloom by cutting back the stems to just 4 inches above the ground and fertilizing with a water-soluble plant food. The plants will be in bloom again in about 2 weeks. Do the same for bachelor's button.

• Don't depend on regular rainfall for watering houseplants vacationing outdoors. If you are, those plants are probably resting peacefully in that Big Greenhouse in the sky by now. If you have been watering them and their leaves look pale, they are probably getting too much sun. Move plants to the shade of a tree.

• Mow high and often. Close mowing ruins lawns. Set your mower to cut at least 2 1/2 inches high and mow whenever the grass is 1/2 to 1 inch above this cutting height. A higher mowing height leaves enough top growth to produce food for a deep root system and a neat, dense turf — one that will look greener from the other side of the fence.

• Cut out a few of the larger leaves of summer squash plants if rotting of young fruit is a problem. Hot, humid and stagnant air promotes fruit rots. Removing a few leaves improves air circulation around the plant and can reduce the occurrence of rot. Also, sow seeds for more summer squash. What, enough is not enough? Between squash vine borer and powdery mildew, the season of harvest can end before having your fill of zucchini-cheese square, zucchini lasagna, zucchini spaghetti, grilled zucchini, etc.

• Cut down pea plants once the harvest is completed. Leave the cut plants in place to dry for a couple of days and then turn them under, or dig a trench in the garden and bury the spent plants. Plant other vegetables, e.g. beans, beets, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, and turnips, for fall harvest in that area. Otherwise, plant a cover crop of buckwheat or sorghum-sudangrass.

• Close your eyes and picture a plate of steaming new potatoes glistening with melting butter and sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley. Yummm...mee! I'm sure you're thinking this spud's for you! Well, now's the time for harvesting new potatoes. A "new" potato is a small immature tuber with skin so thin it merely needs washing rather than peeling. Harvest as needed by carefully scratching away soil at the base of plants. Use your hands. When you feel a potato, pull it out. Afterward push soil back into place covering those potatoes left for further development. Use new potatoes soon after harvest since they don't store well.


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