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Weeding, Watering, Trees

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by Wes Porter
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Prior to heading out to work, the wise gardener knows there is no better way to prepare for those slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune than to take a stroll in the garden. A daily deadheading here, whacking a weed there doubtlessly did as much for the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon as it does for the rest of us mere mortals.

Along with weeds, water is of primary importance this month. June last year was the hottest on record. Not that records have been kept for very long — just since the 1930s. Still it was so hot that a neighbour claimed he saw a dog chasing a cat — and they were both walking. The heat wave continued through July and August with about 40 days when the temperature rose over 30C.

Such heat is especially stressful on trees. They require water just as much as the rest of the garden. About an inch of H2O a week will do nicely, applied at the rate of a half-inch every three or four days unless there is a heavy, sustained rainfall. At average municipal water pressure that works out at about an hour in the same position for the sprinkler.

Many better quality sprinklers now come with a built-in timer. The best time to set this for is about 2 or 3 in the morning. Water pressure is at its highest at that time and there is no sun to evaporate the precious liquid. Foliage will also have cooled down and will not be so susceptible to disease following such nocturnal emissions. Foraging felines will become distinctly disillusioned, however, as will the local skunk and raccoon population.

But best of all it baffles bugs. Cooler night temperatures slow them down and upon receiving the torrential artificial downpour they are swept off the plants they were parasiting. Thus is negated the purchasing power of the spouse of a certain lackadaisical clergyman:

An indolent vicar of Bray
His roses allowed to decay.
His wife, more alert,
Bought a powerful squirt,
And said to her spouse, "Let us spray."

Was this really Simon Aleyn, vicar for almost a half-century of the parish of Bray on the Thames River in Berkshire, England from 1540 to 1588? Rev. Aleyn, alas, did not have insecticidal soap that need only be used where mechanical methods have failed. If not a deluge of positively Biblical proportions then a quick squeeze ‘twixt finger and thumb, a stamp of the foot, a snip of the secateurs. Well perhaps not just before breakfast . . .

Of course, the good reverend in 48 years must have presided over many a wedding. So, now that the popular matrimony month of June is here, where did the practice of throwing rice at weddings come from? According to Chinese Medicinal Herbs (Wee & Hsuan 1990) it originates from an ancient eastern fertility cult. "Rice," write this pair of experts, "plays an important role in many religious and magical rites in the East, its significance variously being related to fecundity and plenty." What they don’t say is the damn stuff gets everywhere.

Will Shakespeare is said to have had a worrisome time with pests — moth larvae to be precise. According to no less an authority that Bennett Cerf, the famed playwright was contemplating swimming with the Tudor equivalent of a beach bunny when the fact that clothes moths might have got at his woolen bathing costume occurred to him. "Wouldst thou check for unwanted openings?" he enquired of her. After making a thorough if discreet examination, the lass was delighted to inform him, "No holes, bard."

Sprawled on the sward, the bard was never bothered by the depredations of June beetle grubs or, if he was, he never wrote of such. Unfortunately such cause swearing not sonnets from today’s unhappy horticulturists. Culturally, some relief will be gained by allowing the surface soil to dry out between watering while never mowing below 2_ inches. Late this month or very early in July, try introducing parasitic nematodes such as Heterorhabditis heliothidus, available at any garden centre worthy of that designation.

The first day of summer arrives on 21 June. According to Richters, experts on all that is herbal, "Long ago it was thought that fennel hung over a doorway at midsummer would prevent evil spirits from entering the home for the coming year." If you cannot find fennel locally try their nursery in Goodwood, a short drive northeast of Toronto. What with a municipal election scheduled this fall and consequently oodles of politicking politicians, it seems like a wise precaution.

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. He has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.