Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Stroll through the garden daily to see what's up

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There are probably a few people around who remember The Stroll, a slow rock `n' roll dance often done to a tune of the same name, originally performed by The Diamonds in the late 1950s. "Come let's stroll, stroll across the floor" were the opening lyrics to the song. Well, I have my own version of the song: "Come let's stroll, stroll across the garden," and two versions of the dance: the Morning Garden Stroll and the Evening Garden Stroll. OK, my stroll is not a dance, though the sudden encounter with a garter snake on occasion has caused me to do The Hustle; but strolling is a great way to enjoy and to keep in touch with your gardens.

The Morning Garden Stroll begins at about the time the sun rises and the birds begin to chirp their cheery tunes. It is a good time to be in the garden as the air is cool and the weight of heat and humidity has not yet pounced on me. Besides the visual enjoyment of the gardens, the morning stroll is a good time to:

- Examine plants in vegetable and ornamental gardens, and borders, for evidence of pests and diseases. Spotting such problems early on will head off deterioration or loss of the plants. In many cases, simple remedies, such as hand-picking pests or pruning out diseased plant parts, will suffice in eliminating or at least limiting the extent of the problem.

- Check to see what fruits and vegetables are ripe for harvest. Fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, are best picked in the morning while they are still cool and somewhat firm. Cool berries will keep longer than those harvested later in the day. Likewise, most vegetables are crisper and more flavorful if picked early in the day. Leafy greens, herbs, root crops, and cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, etc.) can be picked early while still covered with morning dew. On the other hand, I suggest waiting until the dew has evaporated, but the air is still cool, before harvesting squash, cucumbers and tomatoes, since these crops are prone to foliar diseases that are easily spread in moisture. Spores of these diseases can be picked up by touching or brushing against wet infected leaves and then transferred to other plants as you move through the garden.

- Snip off the spent flowers from annuals. Regular removal of faded blossoms will prompt most annuals to keep producing more flowers. I always carry a pair of pruning shears on my strolls.

- Use shears to cut some flowers of annuals and perennials for flower arrangements. Flower stems are most turgid early in the day and will remain so longer if immediately placed in a vase of water. To minimize wilting, cut a few stems just before heading back indoors. That will eliminate the need to be hauling around a bucket of water on the stroll.

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- Take pictures of flowering plants. With the low angle of the rising sun, there seems to be more contrast and sharpness in photos than when the sun is shining brightly at mid-day.

- Don't let the above items deter you from doing The Morning Stroll. Just the stroll alone will perk up your spirits and set the mood for a good day.

The Evening Garden Stroll begins just before sun set. This is a good time to:

- Enjoy the scent of flowers. While most flowers emit their scent during the day, that scent seems to linger as cooler, heavier air starts to settle in the evening. Of course, there are some flowers that emit most of their fragrance as the sun sets. Flowering tobacco and moonflower are two that come to mind.

- Transplant seedlings of vegetables and annuals. No, it is not too late to plant seedlings as we still have almost 90 days left before fall frost becomes a possibility. Many garden centers are anxious to clear their display benches now and bargains can be had. Of course, many of these seedlings will be root-bound. So, use a knife to tease apart the roots before planting. Also, water the soil an hour or so before planting. There will be less stress on the seedlings when planted in moist soil and in the coolness of the evening. And, it is not too late to sow seeds of some vegetable crops. Sweet corn, summer squash, carrots and turnips are just a few to sow now. If uncertain about a particular vegetable, check the label of the seed packet for "days to harvest". If it is 90 days or less, it would be worth a try, keeping in mind that the actual "days to harvest" can vary depending upon weather conditions.

- Hoe and weed the vegetable garden. Now that the heat and humidity of summer has settled in, tasks in the shadeless and open setting of the vegetable garden are more tolerable when done in the coolness of the evening. Weeding is one of those mindless tasks that I excel at and at the end of the day, when my mind is even weaker than it is during the day, I find it relaxing to crawl on my hands and knees weeding.

- Meditate. Mindless weeding or simply strolling through the garden as the sun sets offers me opportunity to let my mind drift ... hopefully, not out to sea. There is something surreal about the tranquility that overcomes one when in a garden in the evening. I've often thought that there would be no war, no hostility and no hatred if everyone on earth could be strolling there in that garden at that moment.


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