July is peak time for soil amending

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2002

This is what the Irish have called a "fine soft day," and a better climate for transplanting I have never seen. This calm saturation without flooding is just what the plant doctor orders, and the soil temperatures are perfect.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.

All the conifers have flushed, candles are opening and the soft tips on the beautiful hemlocks glow like the newly frosted tips of my 10-year-old son's hair. Irises flowering, bog orchids in bloom, and the whole town glowing with color and aroma - it is a delight to survey the landscape.

We have been planting up a storm this last few weeks, as the bare-root shrubs, trees and perennials are being potted up for the next season. Lawn planting is racing along, and erosion control efforts are being seeded, as the germination window is open to its widest extent. The whole spectrum of landscape and horticulture is alive with activity and progress. Our place in this maelstrom is as exciting as possible; we can choose our field of activity and wade in with a relish, since there is action on all sides.

If bed creation is your forte, this is the peak of the year for soil amending, since the long warm spring has made soil ready to turn and blend. Adding peat to the sandy or silty soils, and sand or gravel to the peaty ones, helps create ideal growing mediums.

We have large beds of pure native peat in which we plant the choicest specimens for protection and where we also set the rescued ones for recuperation. The 20-year-old "Paul's Scarlet" hawthorns and the equally old "Sargent" crabapples that spent this winter in the peat beds wintered perfectly. These flowering trees look like dreams.

Pruning time is here too, as the rush of spring growth reveals the extent of winter damage. Taking out the burnt tips, choosing the new leaders and thinning out the competing new growth so that the desired shape will continue is the most fun of any of the horticultural activities. Sharp shears, a good pole pruner and a sturdy ladder help in the task, but a few minutes of reflection before cutting sharpens the most important tool. It is your judgement that guides your pruning, as you strive to find the balance between what is there and what you want to have there in the future.

Winter or dormant pruning stimulates future regrowth, but summer pruning only guides the current season's activity.

Shape the conifers by working in the new growth; guide the rhododendrons while they drop their flower petals to take advantage of their own growth rhythms, and prune lilac by cutting bouquets. The new growth that will set the flowering buds for next year follows the bloom growth spurt, so this will be the best time to trim them.

Those lilacs blooming around town fill the air with their fragrance. The incredibly fragrant "Miss Kim" dwarf Korean lilacs that are in bloom along the edges of the Goldbelt building's parking lot make a wonderful addition to the area, since the lilac concentration in that part of town is about a hundred times as great as any other.

Roses are just opening too, and with their arrival, the last of the Big Three is on stage too. Roses, lilacs and rhododendrons are the strong bones of the summer shrubbery for our area, and that they all bloom around the beginning of July heightens our awareness of the place we occupy in the natural world. We are here as full partners. We participate in the creation of the beautiful settings by placing the soils, setting the young plants in place, and tending their growth as they fill and swell into the mature specimens we enjoy, but we are not in control.

We can plan and plant and prune, but the real effort is done on another level. The interaction between the flowering species and ours is so ancient that we have only rumor and myth to guide us as we shape the spaces and program the experiences of our gardens.

Our response to flowers, and to the shapes and textures of the planted places is so automatic that it transcends language or ideology. We smell the rose, and our faces turn. We hear the rustle of soft leaves and our bodies relax, we are so intertwined with the sensations of the natural world that most of the time we don't even notice. We are part of it all too.

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