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Charlie’s Late May Newsletter
Over the Top Cannas, Different Types of Zukes, Strawberries All Summer, and Basil
The sudden freeze in our garden last week put a damper on all our good feelings about an early growing season. Temperatures dipped into the 20Fs killing back the foliage on many plants including our hardy kiwis, new persimmon tree, hydrangeas, and even grape shoots. Everything should all leaf back out, but the fruits of many berries, such as strawberry and blueberry, definitely will be effected. Such is life in our changing climate with weather extremes that seem to be more common.
But although gardeners are sometimes discouraged, we are never defeated. It’s time to start thinking of the summer tropicals. Canna lilies is one of my favorites not only for their colorful foliage, but the bright, stunning flowers as well. I talk about different varieties of canna lilies and how to grow them in the garden and in pots.
I’m a bit gun shy about popping in our summer vegetables after the freeze. But they will go in this week and one of the stars are the summer squash and zucchinis. Most gardeners think of these as dark green zukes and yellow summer squash. But there are a variety of skin colors and some interesting growth habits that are available for these summer squashes. I talk about different varieties and how to grow them in this newsletter.
Speaking of strawberries. Yes, the blossoms have black centers from the frost, so the crop will be greatly reduced this year. But that shouldn’t stop anymore from growing strawberries. Actually the best types to grow, considering our variable weather, are the day neutral strawberries. They keep sending out blossoms all summer so even if the spring crop is torched, there will be more flowers and fruits coming. I talk about day neutral varieties here as well as growing strawberries.
Our lilacs have bloomed beautifully and our hydrangeas won’t be too far behind. If you have questions about either of these popular shrubs or just want some ideas on varieties and how to grow them, consider purchasing my new Growing Lilacs and Hydrangeas Webinar that I just released. This 1 hour long talk is followed by Q/A. The recording is available for you to watch anytime as many times as you like. Check it out!
Finally, basil is out favorite warm weather annual herb. I talk about growing basil in the ground and containers, some interesting varieties and how to enjoy it all summer long.
Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
Where to Find Charlie: (podcasts, TV and in-person)
Ct Garden Journal on Ct Public- This week: Gardening Basics
In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS) – This week: Rhododendrons
All Things Gardening on Vt Public Radio- This week: Bulbs Not Blooming
WJOY In The Garden Podcast– This week: Moving Magnolias, Vines on a fence, Pruning Rhododendrons, Replanting bulbs and more
Where’s Charlie Speaking? June 2-11th 2023, Garden Tour of Ireland
How to Grow: Canna Lilies
Celebrate the upcoming summer with a splash of color. The best way to add some brightness to your garden is to grow some tropical bulbs. One of the best is canna lilies. This bulb is native to the American tropics and has banana-sized leaves in a variety of colors and many varieties have bright, stunning flowers in shades of yellow orange and red. In warm climates you can plant the bulbs now for a mid summer show. In colder climates you’ll probably want to wait another week to let the soil warm. However, if you’re planting them in containers, go ahead and plant now.
The beauty of canna lilies is even if the flowers don’t show up until late summer, the foliage is stunning. Most varieties grow 3 to 6 feet tall . ‘Wyoming’ is a tall selection that features orange colored blooms and burgundy and green colored leaves. ‘Miss Oklahoma’ is another tall variety but has subtler coral colored flowers. ‘Cannasol™ Happy Julia’ features bright red flowers atop burgundy colored leaves. This is a dwarf variety that only grow to 2 feet tall and is perfect in a container. Other dwarfs, ‘Cannasol Happy Emily’ has bright yellow blooms and ‘Cannasol Happy Carmen’ has red blooms. All of the cannas feature blooms that are attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, so make a great addition to the pollinator garden.
There’s no need to rush canna tubers into the garden. They need warm soils to grow. In containers you can pop in dwarf varieties for nice color and a tropical feel and taller varieties as a statement piece. In the garden, mix and match canna lilies with other sun and heat loving perennials such as plum poppy and Joe-Pye weed. Shorter types can fit in the front of a border to compliment daylilies, echinacea and rudbeckias.
Canna lilies have few pests and problems. Japanese beetles can sometimes attack the foliage. Keep the plants well watered and fertilized regularly, especially in containers. Protecting the plants from wind is a good way to reduce leaf shredding due to summer storms. Plant in protected spots to extend the fall color season. Like any tropical, canna lilies are susceptible to a light frost. Once the plants have died back, dig up and store the tubers to replant next spring.
Learn more about Canna Lilies here
How to Grow: Summer Squash
If you want to feel like you’re growing an abundance of food in your garden, grow summer squash and zucchini. These plants are great at yielding pounds of squash all summer. So much so that you’ll be giving it away! While we normally think of the dark green skinned zucchinis and bright yellow skinned summer squash as the basics of this type of squash, there are lots of variations.
Each year I like to grow the Italian heirloom zucchini ‘Cocozelle’. This zucchini has raised ridges and green and white stripes on the skin. Not only does it look different, it has more solid flesh and a richer flavor I usually don’t find in traditional zucchinis. For something fun, try growing the Italian vining zucchini, ‘Tromboncino’. This heirloom zucchini grows vertically up a fence or trellis and yields long squash that are best harvested when they are 2 feet long. If left along, they can grow to 5 feet long. There is a shorter, modern hybrid called ‘Escalator’ that also vines, but produces smaller, dark green fruits.
For summer squash of a different color, try the Lebanese Cousa varieties such as ‘Magda’. They feature light green skin and a milder tasting flesh. The patty pan squash are always fun. They are flying saucer shaped with green, white or yellow skin, depending on the variety. They are a conversation piece in the garden.
Unless you’re feeding the neighborhood, you’ll only need 1 or 2 plants for a small family. Summer squash produce that much fruit! Plant after all danger of frost has passed on raised beds filled with compost amended soil. Summer squash like sun and heat, so plant them where they’ll get plenty of both. You can also plant dwarf varieties, such as ‘Astria’, in containers on a deck or patio.
Summer squash need cross pollination from bees and pollinators to produce fruit. Be sure to limit pesticides in the garden and plant flowers around to attract bees to your garden. Plant vining nasturtiums around the summer squash plants to confuse the squash bugs and squash vine borers from laying eggs. Also, check regularly for the copper colored squash bug eggs on the underside of squash leaves and crush them.
Harvest summer squash early and often. The more you harvest, the more fruits will be produced. I pick our summer squash and zucchini with the yellow flower still attached. By the way, the flowers are edible, too, and great eaten sauteed or stuffed and baked. Plant a crop now for summer and again in June, for fall. That way you’ll be insured of getting a continuous supply of squash right until frost.
Learn more about growing Summer Squash here
Strawberries All Summer
The recent freeze that occurred in our garden killed a number of blossoms, especially our strawberry flowers. You can tell if your flowers have damage by the centers turning brown or black. That’s a shame because we love our June bearing strawberries, however, it got me thinking about another way to grow strawberries to avoid such weather related calamities. That would be growing day neutral varieties.
Unlike June bearing strawberry varieties, such as ‘Sparkle’ and ‘Jewel’, that flower and fruit once, day neutral varieties flower and fruit all summer. This continuous crop of berries not only provides delicious fruit all summer, but also, if something happens to the first blossoms, such as a late freeze, you still get berries from the later blossoms. Some good varieties of day neutral strawberries to try include ‘Tribute’, ‘Evie 2’ and ‘Seascape’.
Day neutral varieties also don’t produce as many runners as June bearing types so are good plants for smaller spaces. Of course, they won’t produce as many fruits all at once like June bearing varieties, but you’ll get a consistent crop and some insurance in case of a late frost.
Another nice thing about day neutral varieties is if you plant them now, you can actually get berries for the late summer and fall. After planting, snip off all the flowers that form until July, then let those flowers make fruits. By then the plants are well established and can support the fruits.
Plant day neutral varieties a bit closer together than standard varieties since they don’t spread as much. Plant on raised beds on well-drained soil. Keep well watered. Fertilize at planting with an organic granular fertilizer. Keep well weeded.
Enjoy the berries all summer.
Learn more about strawberries here
In Our Garden: Basil
One of our favorite tastes of summer is basil. The Genovese basil we grow explodes by mid summer with an abundance of leaves. It’s perfect for making sauces, salads and pesto. While the Genovese basils are the traditional ones many people grow, there are other tastes of basil. Thai basil features purple stems and flowers and leaves with a strong anise flavor. ‘Sweet Dani’ is a lemon flavored variety. There’s also a ‘Lime’ flavored basil. ‘Purple Ruffles’ is a good ornamental with ruffled purple leaves and can be eaten. There’s even a ‘Spicy Globe’ basil that’s short and compact, perfect for containers and window boxes. If fusarium wilt and downy mildew are issues with your basil, try the disease resistant ‘Prospero’ basil.
Wait to plant basil outdoors until it has really warmed up. Basil hates cold soils and air. We plant basil everywhere in our gardens. It’s close to the house for quick access when cooking.
It’s in the large garden for growing lots of basil for making pesto. It’s in the flower gardens as an ornamental and when allowed to flower, a good pollinator plant. It’s in containers just to extend the season a little longer.
Basil likes a rich soil that’s well-drained. Give new plants a drink of fish emulsion to boost the leaf production and keep the plants well watered. Basil has a few pests, such as Japanese Beetles, but generally is pretty trouble free. Start harvesting when there’s enough leaves to eat. To keep your Genovese basil producing all summer making large leaves, harvest by stripping individual stems from the main stalk. This will stimulate new stems and bigger leaves. If you keep harvesting just the leaves, the leaf size will get smaller as summer progresses.
Remember to dry, freeze, make pesto or otherwise find ways to store your basil for winter. Basil isn’t one of those herbs that’s an easy one to grow inside unless you have grow lights.
Learn more about basil here