COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Welcome the start of a new gardening season

By Marianne Binetti

As the month of June begins it is time to celebrate the real start of the gardening season. Finally you can plant out tomato plants and they’ll actually grow rather than just sit there in a cold-weather funk.

Don’t think you’re starting too late if you haven’t planted any vegetables. Experienced gardeners in Western Washington know that waiting until after Father’s Day in mid-June is the best time to start planting seeds of warm-season crops like corn, beans, squash and cucumbers. When you wait until June when the soil is warm the seeds will sprout sooner and the new plants grow faster; veggies planted in early summer will even catch up and pass heat-loving vegetables set out in early May. This is because June veggies get to skip the cool May nights that can send heat-lovers into a growth-stunting depression.

June is also the time to plant tender annuals like basil, coleus and marigolds. But don’t think you can just swoon in June to the happy planting tune. This is also the time to weed, feed, hoe and mow. Then get your cutting-edge game on and trim your hedges and edges this week.

Q. How often do I need to get my husband to trim our boxwood hedge? We both like a neat and tidy hedge but argue about when and how often boxwood needs trimming. R.T., e-mail

A. The general rule of green thumb is to trim new growth from evergreen hedges once in June and again in late summer. The best idea for a more natural look is to let the hedge grow softer with a looser look. This means you’ll only want to trim wayward branches once in mid-summer. Don’t be afraid of power tools as there are now lighter-weight, battery-powered hedge trimmers that, with a little practice, anyone can use.

Q. Help! My hydrangea has damaged leaf tips on the outermost branches. I suspect this is from the cold spring but I don’t like how it looks and want to prune back the damaged stems but am afraid if I do that I won’t get any blue hydrangea flowers this summer. L.P., Kent

A. You are right – in most cases if you prune back a hydrangea now you will be clipping off the flower buds. The only exception is if you own one of the new “Endless Summer” hydrangeas that blooms on new wood as well as two-year-old branches. A good compromise is to cut back two or three of the branches that you feel are the most badly damaged and then remove only the most damaged leaves from your frost-bitten hydrangea that are tipped brown or rusty red. This way you’ll be leaving the flower bud clusters and still enjoy hydrangea blooms this summer. Blame the warm spell in March for waking up our hydrangeas a bit too early. Once the new foliage sprouted we were hit with a cold front that seems to have scorched every hydrangea in western Washington. Not to worry if you decide to do nothing. Hydrangeas are tough shrubs and will survive this spring of their discontent without any long-lasting effects.

Q. Must I remove all the faded flowers from my rhododendrons? I’ve been doing it for years but last year I grabbed a faded truss of blooms and put my fingers right over a buzzing bee. Ouch. I am trying to get out of this chore from now on. Anonymous, e-mail

A. No, you do not have to deadhead your rhododendrons. They will still bloom next year but perhaps with a few less blossoms. A quick way to tidy up large rhododendrons that are past bloom time is to use a light bamboo rake and claw off the faded flowers. You could also give your rhododendrons and azaleas a light pruning. Pruning after blooming is the general rule and if you cut back rhododendrons or shear off the new growth and faded flowers of azaleas this month you won’t be sacrificing any flowers.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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