Gardening for each month of the year

Although the local contadini tell me that the phases of the moon make no difference to them, except in July, for the past several years we've planted with the phases of the moon.

Each year, we take out our planting calendars and consult with locals as well as Tia and the folks at the mercatos to see what to plant and when to plant it.

So in this part of the site, I'll give you an idea of what we plant, what we cultivate, what we harvest, and what we do with what we harvest. Separately is a guide of how to plant by the phases of the moon, in case you're interested!

Using calendars, reference books and a little luck, I'll update this each month. We'll start with the month of January, which is as good a beginning month as any.



-Reorganize garden shed and greenhouse
-Sharpen and clean tools
-Start potatoes indoors or in greenhouse
-Design changes to garden
-Prune non-stone bearing fruit trees
-Clear out or cut back those plants that aren't making it


This is a sleepy month, with frost often on the ground when we wake up. So it's not a good month to do much in the way of planting, unless it's agretti, that wonderful spring green that looks like long grass, but is so delicious when dropped in a pan with a little olive oil, clove of garlic, swished around and served before it is cooked for long.

I keep telling myself to plant it, but each morning we're busy doing non-garden things. This month is so cold, and the ground so hard, that any excuse to stay away is good.

We take walks on the terrace and in the garden, amazed at how wonderful the round globes of lavender look.

We also plant rucola, or rugghetta, which is known outside Italy as arugula. This is a sometimes tough little green for salads, and can be quite bitter. The Italian variety is sweeter, and it is good to pinch off the newer leaves and use them right away on a salad, or as a trendy base for something more exotic. It can be grown all year.

I have to pinch myself to ignore the older shoots. If we always pick the older shoots, we'll never taste the more delicious newer leaves and there are plenty to choose from. Instead, we need to plant them more often, and not worry about using the older leaves. We also plant lettuce all year.

I look guiltily at the roses, thinking they need their winter clipping of the leaves, but Tia as well as our pals at Michellini, our favorite vivai, tell me to wait until February. January is too cold. Sounds good to me.

January is an important month for pruning the trees. So do we do the pruning ourselves, or bring in an expert? Last year, we pruned them ourselves, but perhaps it is a good idea to bring in someone we trust, like Mario, to do any serious work.

For now, I'll ignore the details of tree pruning here, but when we do take that on this month, will post something in the journal. But do not prune stone fruit trees this month! Wait until March or even April.

January is a month of beginnings, and on those mornings and early afternoons when the sun is warm, we take out our Felco shears and miscellaneous favorite tools and clip and clean. With our style of garden, I like the look of sparseness this month.

With many evergreens, including cypress and boxwood as well as the neatly round orbs of lavender, it's a great month to imagine the space in full flower, similar to those guide books of Rome, with overlays to show what the various historical monuments looked like tens of centuries ago. I squint and imagine what the space will look like in May and June with the two roses we just purchased. Lovely.

I'm also imagining the iris, spread out over several areas of the garden, as I pull off the long dead leaves. I leave the rest of each iris plant alone, as it does not like being moved or fussed with. Iris is a good flower to plant in areas of bright sun with dry soil. Although it sometimes takes a few years to settle into its growing pattern, it's worth including in a garden for its surprises during the year.

The vibernums are at their best this month, with tiny round globes of soft pink against dark green leaves. In December, those globes were dark blue berries, which are now open buds. I like to shape the vibernum into globes, but new plants take time to mature.

The first two large vibernums originally flanking the front door are now growing in the ground by the far tufa caves. After six years or so, they grew too large for the big pots. So now we're tending younger plants in their places, and these will take another year or two to reach the optimum size for the pots.

Shoots of narcissus have begun to appear. Planted in late November or early December, we expect to see them in flower in another month or so. We did not plant tulips this year, but if we can find the French blowsy type of bulbs next fall, will do those as well.

Fava beans are growing in the two areas where we will grow our tomatoes. Felice counseled us to plant three seeds in each hole two months ago, to assure that at least one will come up. In many spots there are three.

In April we'll shell fresh favas and serve them in a low basket with pieces of salty pecorino cheese. We expect to grow many tomatoes this year, and the favas will be harvested just as the tomato plants are ready to plant, providing very rich nutrients for the soil. Now, when we look over the beds, we have a feeling of pride in our work, and a great appreciation of the natural world all around us.

Sarah Hammond counseled us years ago to take care of our tools, especially the Felco #6 shears we use every day in the garden. We should sharpen them often and clean them with alcohol after each use. But we are not that compulsive. This is a good time, however, to take out tools and clean, lubricate and sharpen them. This will prolong the life of the tools.

It's also time to reorganize our storage space. Now that our gardener's shed has been cleared of Dino's tools and tool bench, there will be more room to work in the good weather. So on a warm day, we'll do an inventory and restock the shelves, adding clips to the walls to hang tools.

I've just read not to prune stone fruit (that means plums, peaches, cherries or nectarines) or flowering cherries and plums now. To prune them, wait until April or later, when the sap is flowing freely. This bleeding will prevent the organism responsible for silver leaf disease entering the sap-stream. Once that happens, the tree will probably die in a few years. So this year, we'll wait to prune our cherry and peach and plum. You may want to do the same.

And I've just come across something about how to chit potatoes". "Chit" potatoes? Never heard of it. Anyway, here's what it says to do, in the event you're bored and wanting to get those potatoes going early...

1 - In a clean seed tray lined with newspaper, or in a compartment of an egg box, place seed potatoes up on end with the tiny buds facing upwards.

2 - Stand the box in a warm, dry place in the house, ideally where the spuds will receive a reasonable amount of light.

3 - When the shoots are 1-1.5 inches long, the potato tubers are chitted. Planting won't take place until next month, as it takes the shoots time to develop. This can also be done in February, or even early March.


February Checklist

-Clean roses, taking off all older leaves and cutting back as necessary; discard all leaves in garbage: Never put dead or decaying rose material in compost pile.

-Clean up bedding areas
-Renewal-prune old shrubs, deciduous hedges and climbers
-Plant early spring bulbs
-Finish winter-pruning standard apple and pear trees
-Sow early vegetables in the greenhouse
-Sow tomato seeds in the house in a south facing window

We're waiting for the narcissus to flower and prepare to plant heirloom tomato seeds.

Mid-month, we've planted our tomato seeds. By the last week of February, 52 of our 77 heirloom tomato seeds have poked their heads up out of the soil. So we expect a good crop this year. By the end of the month, there are 60.

I've read to "dig over" the soil, to prep it for spring planting. This means to keep lightly turning over the surface of the earth regularly every couple of weeks. This is a simple soil prep technique that kills of a lot of weeds and gets rid of soil pests naturally. We'll be able to spot and remove bits of root as they start growing. Sounds good to me!

I'm taking Mario's cue, and he prunes the stone fruit trees (peach and plums) when he does the other pruning in early February. Books say to prune in March or April. We'll see if he's right.

I've planted Sweet Peas, Datura, Cruel Plants (plants that capture moths at night and release them in the morning to pollinate plants), but by the end of the month only the Sweet Peas are ready to grow. The Datura should be a monster vine, so we'll see what happens to it next month. I have no idea what to think of the cruel plants.


March Checklist

-Finish pruning all roses
-Remove weeds on paths, fork over soil in borders, weed and mulch, and dig up and divide overcrowded perennials
-Plant any new roses or plants
-Tidy up herb garden
-Fertilize seedlings
-Prepare soil, then sow lettuce, rocket, spring onions
-Plant early potatoes to be grown in pots undercover; plant outdoors at the end of month
-Harvest last of the broccoli
-Water pot grown lemon tree
-Clean the greenhouse
I've learned something about our clay soil. It's not until spring winds and sun start to dry it out that we can start to work on it. While it's soggy, we need to let it be, or it will just set like concrete in summer.

We need to start forking the soil over between plants to loosen it up and start to weed again. Sigh. There are so many rocks in the soil, that picking up rocks is a never ending chore while we weed.

This is a time to dig up and divide perennial plants. I've not done much of this before, so perhaps this will be a good year to start, instead of throwing them all out and starting again.

Mulching the Soil
Although it's not time to do heavy digging, it's time to mulch the soil while it's still fluffy from its fork-over. I notice this when we turn the earth over when planting the peonies.

To mulch it well, cover it with a generous layer of organic matter, such as garden compost, manure, or mushroom compost. Don't start to add fertilizer until the end of the month, in the event we still have a hard frost ahead of us. I'm sure we have compost because, as a friend told us, "compost happens." As Alan Titchmarch advises, "Mulching is a good habit to get into as it benefits the garden in several ways, all of which will save you work for the rest of the season. It covers annual weed seeds, keeps them in the dark so they can't germinate. It reduces evaporation so you save on watering, and it is the lazy way to add "roughage" to ground that you can't dig because there are plants growing in it - by mulching, the worms do the job instead." Brilliant!

We don't have a lawn per sea; so don't look here for lawn advice. The closest we come is a ground cover, which we sow each spring and it takes or doesn't take.

We're going to be planting our potatoes in big rectangular plastic pots. Some potatoes are purchased here, some we'll get from Candida next week when she returns from San Francisco. Here's what we'll do: The potato "seed" is a section of the potato itself. All potatoes, and especially the ones certified for seeding, have what are called "eyes". These are the little dimples from which the potato vine eventually "grows".

For planting potatoes cut a medium-sized one of certified stock into blocks, each one of which must have at least one eye, but no more than two.

Dig a furrow 8 inches deep, set the potato seeds in it eye up, spaced about 18 inches apart, and cover them with 6 inches of soil. In 3 weeks or so, the potato plant will appear. Speriamo!

When it is well established and about 10 inches high, bank each plant with about 2 inches of soil. Each seed will produce about six large potatoes. As they grow toward maturity they may outcrop above the ground, so cover them then with an inch or so of soil. This kind of exposure to the light will turn the potato green and make it unfit to eat.

The potatoes will take about 4 months to mature. We'll be harvesting ours toward the end of June. As we get closer to the warm weather, water the potatoes more. They require a lot of water. Also refer to our earlier information on "chitting potatoes". Pruning roses in March
It's possible to prune roses in March or even early April if the weather is very cold. The delay means the plants will flower slightly later than usual, but it's better than having all the new growth nipped by frost. If you prune early, you'll have to guess where the buds are going to appear - look for a scar on the stem showing where an old leaf fell off.

By leaving pruning until a bit later, the buds start to develop into young shoots, so its easy to see where to cut. However, don't leave it until the shoots are more than about 1" long.

Sarah Hammond counsels us to prune our Madame Alfred Carriere rose about 6" from a lateral branch. Because this rose is a vigorous climber, cutting back side shoots and tying in young and vigorous shoots to replace older ones, a few of which can be removed each year, is a good thing.


April Checklist

General Tasks
-Spring clean borders
-Keep on top of weeding and hoeing
-Feed roses, borders, hedges, trees, shrubs and spring bulbs with general purpose fertilizer
-Feed acid-loving plants like rhododendrons and azaleas with fertilizer meant just for them.
-Weed-whack far property twice this month to keep the grass clipped

Trees, shrubs and climbers
-Plant or move any evergreen shrubs
-Feed acid-loving plants
-Spray roses with a mixture of denatured alcohol, liquid soap and water twice a week
-Prune winter jasmine and hydrangea
-Tie in shoots of climbing and rambling roses, wall-trained shrubs and newly planted climbers
-Tidy up hedges and clip if necessary, although this will usually be a task for next month
-Plant pot-grown evergreens for hedges
-Start regular watering cycle for roses

-Wait six weeks after flowers of spring bulbs are finished blooming before cutting the foliage down
-Continue to plant perennials and finish dividing and planting summer flowering perennials
Patios and containers
-Plant spring bedding and summer bulbs in pots
-Plant compact trees, shrubs and evergreens in pots

Vegetables and herbs
-Fertilize tomatoes in-house
-Sow broad beans, summer cabbage, early peas, leeks, spring onions, lettuce, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, endive, carrots and onions
-Plant more potatoes
-Plant asparagus crowns and globe artichokes.
-Give support to peas and beans sown earlier
-Watch out for flea beetle, particularly on arugula
-Harvest the first over wintered spring onions, and Swiss chard -Sow hearty herbs (parsley, chervil, coriander, fennel, dill and marjoram)

-Prune stone fruit trees if necessary
-Spray fruit trees to protect them from Spring infestations with organic matter

In the Serra (Greenhouse)
-Ventilate the serra on sunny days but shut it down mid-afternoons to retain the heat at night
-Toward the end of the month, start standing bedding plants and tomatoes and frost-tender vegetables outside on fine days to harden them off gradually. Keep them in a frost-free greenhouse or frame for the rest of the time.
-Repot any greenhouse pot plants that need it
-Buy and pot up plug plants
-Buy and plant petunias for balcony
-Take stem-tip cuttings from pot-grown hydrangeas
-Sow frost-tender vegetables French and runner beans, pumpkins, squashes and corgettes) for planting outdoors later in a heated propagator
-Tie in vine rods
-Thin out vegetable and salad seedlings

-Slugs and snails on newly emerged perennials and vegetable seedlings, flea beetle on vegetables
-Cold damage

In our garden:
The roses look pristine as they start to show their leaves at the beginning of the month, so this is the time to check out each plant almost every day. I pick off any yellow or diseased leaves, and as Sarah counseled, throw these leaves out in the garbage, away from any compost or other plants.

Twice a week, I spray the roses from a large pump sprayer containing a mixture of denatured alcohol, liquid soap and water. I do this in the morning after any fog has cleared. If it rains, I'll repeat the spray after the rain clears.

Once a week, I'll begin the feeding of the potted hydrangeas with a general-purpose fertilizer.

It's a good time to feed the borders in between shrubs, roses, trees, evergreens with a general purpose fertilizer that you can sprinkle around.

This is the month to watch out for cold damage. On April 1st the weather is so balmy that we tend to forget that cold can return with a vengeance and damage or destroy our more delicate plants and trees. Damage is disastrous when there's been a wild winter that lulls plants into a false sense of security so they start growing early, in time to be damaged by a late cold snap.

I know we should protect fruit tree blossoms with horticultural fleece. We'll keep watching the weather forecasts, and will attempt to cover the peach and new apple and plum trees, at least. I suppose that's a reason not to let fruit trees get too large. The others we have are too large to cover easily.

I'm not particularly lucky with hydrangeas, but love them, so let's see if we can master them this year. I've just read that pruning hydrangeas should be done this month. I've already pruned them back hard a month or so ago, so this is a mistake, but they look great.

"Whatever you do" I read, "Don't cut off the shoots with the fat green buds at the end, as they're the ones that should have this year's flowers."

The guide also tells me that an old hydrangea that has a lot of woody congested sticks in the middle can be thinned out slightly, removing the thickest sticks close to the base of the plant. That will give you fewer but bigger and more spectacular flowers. Sounds good.

The book also tells me that this is the last time to prune modern bush roses. All right. But it's the climbers and ramblers that need pruning during the season after the first flowers. I think. Oh, drat. Will I ever figure it out?

I know about tieing in climbing and rambling roses to be horizontal, and to tie in shoots of newly planted climbers. So yesterday we did this with the Lady Hillingdons on the path. They are already showing signs of buds. We cut off one or two of the oldest branches, which are starting to look woody, and I think that's all right, as long as we don't take too many off each plant.

I love formal Italianate gardens, and so boxwood hedges are important in our scheme. Although the stars are the round boxwood globes, the hedges need care this month. Underneath, we make sure to clean out any weeds, snails and rubbish, and then sprinkle a generous helping of general fertilizer about 12 inches from the stems. Sure, I'd love to add compost, but we don't have much. Yes, Sarah, I'm working on Dino. He's getting much better about composting, and last year I think he even started to enjoy the process.

In a week or so, it will be time to start the hedge clipping. I've started the clipping of the round box, and this is a long process. We have more than sixty, and I clip several a day. That makes the process not an unwieldy one, especially since I don't have the ability to hoe or weed anymore with my lame shoulder.

I'm imagining an assortment of evergreen balls of different sizes, if that makes any sense, on our property. So we'll begin with putting them in the pots we purchased a month or so ago. Later, probably in the fall, we'll plant some or all of them in the ground.

Because spring bulbs "need time to recharge their batteries", I hope we can ignore the leaves once their flowers have died. Six weeks. That's a lot of time for them to take in the sunlight they need and store it in their bulbs for next year.

So we'll try to ignore them until the third week of May. We'll even feed them with general purpose organic food to give them a good start. It's recommended that we give them a high potash tomato supplement. We'll see if we have that.

We take a walk over to the raised orto bed, and are ready to pull out the spring onions and cauliflower. That means we can start from scratch there, so we'll turn over all the soil, add any compost we managed to develop during the winter and add some general purpose organic fertilizer. Then we'll (I'm talking Dino here) fork it all in together. He'll rake it over several times, making is smooth and stoneless and rootless.

So will we sow seeds? I'm thinking we'll pass this year except for arugula, and will check out the various garden supply yards to buy plugs of what we'd like to eat later. Sedano (celery) is a must for all those summer tunafish sandwiches (we can't resist these even now), and of course lettuces, cetrioli (cucumber), swiss chard and two zucchini.

Tomatoes have a garden all their own, and in between the plants we'll plant basil. I read that basil is good for the tomato plants, and we never have enough basil to go around. I love the smell of it as I rub my fingers over it, and am smiling now just thinking about it.

When we first planted our tomatoes, we were precise about labeling them, but now that some are growing faster than others, I'm not going to worry about labeling them anymore. Once they've produced fruit, we'll be able to tell which variety they are.

I'm thinking back about summertime harvests, on mornings when the air is moist and sweet. Sofi and I would walk out to the tomato garden and I'd pick basketfuls for pranzo salads and cold soups and putting up in jars for winter sauces. This year we'll have about sixty plants, and I'm happy that we'll have plenty to eat, plenty to share.

We chitted the potatoes (see Jan and Feb) and at the end of March, Dino planted the fingerling potatoes. In the second week or so of April he'll plant two more tubs of potatoes. Remember we've decided to plant the potatoes in pots this year.

Unless you're going to go wild, it works to plant all potatoes together in April. There are different kinds of potatoes to plant: first earlies, second earlies and maincrop varieties. If you're a serious potato grower, check the internet for more information. We're into planting whatever potatoes we have at about the same time this month and pretty much ignoring the spacing guidelines. We'll see if that's a good idea later in the year. We're planting fingerlings and purple Peruvians from California and the rest are Italian varieties.

For this month, make sure that any foliage growing out of the ground is protected from late frosts, or it will kill any of the potatoes. Drat. Any potato tubers that push themselves out of the ground will turn green, so don't eat those.

Earthing is a new term for us. The process of "earthing" buries a lot of young weed seedlings, so helps prevent the crop being swamped by weeds. So planting potatoes rids the ground of...weeds! It's due to the regular earthing up, which gradually wears down the weeds. It's really the gardener's constant cultivation of the soil that does it, not the potatoes.

How to Earth Up
1)Using a hoe with a draw, pull earth up from each side of the row to form a low mound shaped ridge completely covering the line of potato leaves.
2) Each time you start to see any weeds, work your way along both sides of the rows, until the ridges are about 6-8" high.
3) In summer, scrape up the soil around the stems of the plants only - the buried stems then take root, which boosts tuber production.

Writing about this saddens me. Last year, and the year before, dear Felice did our potato tending. This year it will be Dino's job. We miss Felice's visits more than anything else, and have no idea how we'll ever find someone like him.

Perennial vegetables

Most vegetables are annual crops that are sown, grown and eaten all in the same year, but asparagus and artichokes live for years. Years? Whenever we plant artichokes they're dug up by some sort of creature and we never get to eat a single one.

Perennial vegetables need a sunny, sheltered situation with fertile, well-drained soil and large quantities of well-rotted organic matter added and worked in deeply. This is the best month to plant them, so we'll begin soon and later in the month will buy what we have not already planted at the grand Montecastrilli outdoor mercato.

Planting artichokes

Globe artichokes are very easy to grow. They're probably easier to grow than to prepare to cook...You can plant one or two here and there in a flower bed, or plant them in a row along one end of the vegetable patch. Their flower buds appear at any time during the summer, so we'll be cutting little and often for much of the season from July to September. We'll try a row at the back of our raised planter bed.

1)Plant the artichokes, spacing them at least 3X3ft apart (1X1m), as they need room to develop. Feed and mulch established plants generously each year in April, and keep them well weeded.

2)Cut globe artichokes with a short stem when they are about fist-sized but before they start to open out into a flower.

3)As with perennial border flowers, you can dig up and divide globe artichokes in spring when old plants become congested or unproductive. Instead of chopping the plant up with a spade, detach healthy young offsets from around the edge of the clump for replanting.

Inside, we've sown dill and coriander, two herbs difficult to purchase here in plugs. And when we move our tomatoes outside at the end of the month, we'll move these outside, too.

There. That wasn't so bad. Whatever will May bring? There's lots of fun in the garden ahead in April, so that will have to wait...

Stay tuned for checklists for succeeding months.


May Checklist

-Prepare the soil for bedding plants.
-Plant bedding plants, frost-tender vegetables and sweet pea plants started in the greenhouse.
-Keep on top of hoeing and weeding.
-Watch out for pests; control them biologically and organically.
-Continue to remove weeds from lawns and mow weekly.

-Tie-in new growth of climbers and wall shrubs.
-Move tender plants outside from greenhouse.
-Cut privet every 6 weeks or so throughout the summer.
-Support perennials.
-Sow seeds of perennials.
-Continue deadheading and feeding spring-flowering bulbs.
-Clear spring-flowering plants and prepare the ground for replanting.
-Plant and train sweet peas.
-Bring out pot grown trees from greenhouse once the danger of frost has passed.
-Plant tubs, troughs, window-boxes and hanging baskets after the middle of the month.
-Check plants regularly to see if extra watering is necessary.
-Water vegetable patches regularly in dry weather.
-Sow main crop carrots, autumn cabbage, peas, Swiss chard, radish, lettuce and spring onions.
-Direct-sow frost-tender vegetables, like French and runner beans, sweet corn, zucchini, squashes and pumpkin.
-Plant frost-tender vegetables once the danger of frost has passed; harden them off first.
-Continue earthing up potatoes.
-Harvest asparagus, lettuce, radishes, rocket and over-wintered onions.
-Water soft fruit bushes with swelling fruit and newly planted fruit trees.
-Ventilate the greenhouse well during the day; water plants more frequently.
-Continue to pot seedlings, cuttings and young plants.
-Continue to harden off bedding plants and frost-tender vegetables by standing them outside on fine days and returning them to the greenhouse at night.
-Plant tomatoes in early May and sweet peppers, chillies, eggplants, melons and cucumbers in late May.
-Water, feed, trim and train new plants regularly.
-Harvest baby potatoes.
-Dig up and dry off tulip bulbs once they have finished flowering, to make way for summer bedding plants. -If you want a lawn, the beginning of the month is your last chance to sow a new one.

Watch out for:
-Late frosts - Protect new shoots and fruit tree blossoms with horticultural fleece and don't plant bedding plants outside too soon.
-Pests are everywhere outside this time of year.

General Tasks

Preparing the soil is one of the most important things you can do in your garden. I'm usually too impatient, and suffer because plants don't survive as well if the soil is not prepped and cared for before planting.

It's also better to wait a few days to plant to be sure that the danger of frost has passed. Use your waiting time to prepare the ground, so that when it's time you can plant and be sure your plants will thrive.

Clear your spring bedding or the last of the winter vegetables, take out any weeds, sprinkle a general-purpose fertilizer over the soil or compost. Rake the ground over well.

Anti-slug treatment
Use this treatment any time during the summer once the soil has warmed up, although it's best when planted in May before the susceptible and frost-tender vegetables and bedding plants are put in the ground.

It will continue to work for several months. Use a watering can with a fine nose and apply a "nematode soap" evenly to the area. The bugs are too small to see, but seek out and destroy slugs by passing on a bacterial infection, which is what actually kills the pests. Unfortunately this does not work on snails, for they manage to evade the nematodes by climbing up into the plants they fancy. Some people use beer to drown them, some use copper wire, which we are told they won't crawl over. What do you think?

Lawns are lost on us. They're too darn much work. So we can't help you much here, other than to say we sometimes scatter a box of "prato" early in the month and scratch the earth with a fine rake, then water. If we're in luck and keep off the area, we'll have some wild lawn. On the far property, our grass survives or not, depending on the amount of heat. So gravel over nursery cloth is what we use in the many of the visible areas on our property.

Trees, shrubs and climbers
May is about the best time of year to clip boxwood as well as hedges of all kinds. This is a good time to talk about tools. p> Dino loves tools, and has taught me to respect them for the work they save as well as the detail they accomplish. If you have a long hedge, make sure that you spend the money on a good hedge clipper, powered with a long blade. It will be either electric or petrol powered, depending on the length of hedge in your garden and length of your cord.

Rechargeable clippers only last thirty minutes or so before they need to be recharged, but they're light-weight, and if you only have a small area to cover, they may be your answer. But here at L'Avventura, we have lots of hedges, and about one hundred round boxwood globes, as well as almost sixty lavender. So power clippers are what we use here.

Sorry, Sarah. I know you'd prefer that we pinch off each plant. We'd need an army of pinchers to accomplish what we need to, unless you and Alush are available to spend a month or so with us each year.

That reminds me. Don't expect to clip your hedges and box all summer. The leaves will burn if you clip much after mid June, unless the month is very cool.

We have plenty of bearded iris in our garden, and there are two schools of thought once the flowers have had their day. Some say to take the plants out and dry out the bulbs, but we're snipping off the flowers and leaving the rest of the plant in the ground for six weeks or so. In the meantime, we continue to feed the iris plants as if they're still flowering, with a general-purpose fertilizer.

Once the six weeks have passed, we clip off the shoots above the ground and leave the bulbs in for the next season. Once every couple of years, we pull the bulbs out and divide them.

Patios and containers
We use containters for growing our potatoes, as well as our hydrangeas. A number of boxwood globes grow in terra cotta pots as well. There's not heavy weeding using pots. Just be sure that the plants get enough water. Be sure to add compost to any newly planted pots to give them added nutrients as they begin their growing season.

See our earlier months for growing potatoes in pots. This is our first year doing so and are very pleased with how easy the process is, as well as how good the finished product tastes. No more bending over to hoe around the potatoes for us!

Vegetables and herbs
Sweet corn is worth growing, we're told, only if you plant lots, but we have six plants that have survived given to us from a friend, so we'll see if they "take". They are wind pollinated, so a couple of plants standing on their own "stand no chance of producing any cobs". We'll see. We have two rows of corn, so we'll let you know if any pollenation occurs.

Squash is a sprawly plant, and I've wanted to have winter squash. Each year, I wait too late to plant. But this year, we planted four seeds...two orange, one yellow and one green. They're planted in the raised orto in front of the serra, and have grown so fast that we think we're in Green Mansions, with Dino prepared almost with a machete as the summer advances.

Already, we've picked a few, and there must be fifty or more flowers on the plants. We let them die. We clip them off. We have no idea why we planted them here, or why we thought they could be restrained. Don't follow our lead here, unless you're prepared for a huge crop.

Some plant squash on top of the compost heap, but we've learned that sometimes that makes the vegetables taste like, well, garbage. Experts tell us that pumpkins and squash are big, trailing plants that need lots of room and really rich soil that holds plenty of moisture in summer.

They tell us to dig a pit 12 inches square and just as deep, fill it with pure, well-rotted manure or garden compost, then cover it with a good garden topsoil, mounding it up 6 inches high in the center. Then sow 2 or 3 seeds 1/2" deep on the top of this. If more than one seed grows, pull out all but the strongest plant. Make a moat around the plant for watering.

If you're growing more than one, plant the seeds at least 6 feet apart for trailing varieties and 3 feet across for non-trailing zucchini. I'm laughing while writing this, as our squash are planted probably 1 ft. apart, with two on one side of the lettuce greenhouse and two on the other.

I'm expecting to wake up one morning to find the little lettuce greenhouse thrown down onto the top of the car parked below by the four plants. One must have a sense of humor about all this, don't you think?

Tomatoes are the stars of the show, as far as Italians are concerned. Planted at the beginning of May each year, they provide year round tomatoes, either eaten off the vine, or put up for sauces in wintertime.

We planted heirloom tomatoes from seed this February in the house, then moved them to the greenhouse in late April, before hardening them off. , Beginning in early May, we planted a couple of dozen plants. Many just weren't tall enough, even after hardening them off. We even had plants that weren't planted until mid June. So this summer will be a new test of how long the tomatoes can grow in the ground if they're not fully grown by the time September rolls around.

One expert tells us to plant tomatoes in the warmest spot in the garden (we have) and space them 18 inches apart. Ours are spaced farther apart, because our sprinkler holes are spaced every 30 cm. In between each tomato plant we also planted a basil plant. We're told that the tomatoes will taste sweeter when planted next to basil plants. And we never have enough basil in the summertime. If we have basil left at the end of the season, we can freeze it.

Harvest lettuce and arugula (rocket). We plant either seeds or plugs of both, and enjoy them all summer long, replanting a couple every three weeks or so.

We have one peach, two plum, one cherry, one apple tree. One apple and one plum are fairly new, with eight apples on one branch of the tree and no fruit on the new plum. This area is prone to peach blight, so we've lost this year's entire crop, because we did not use a biologic spray before the tree came into flower in March. Let's see if we've learned our lesson next spring.

There is a new trick to protect apple and plum trees. It's called a codling moth trap. They look like yellow or green tents, for insects are drawn to these colors...really!

Inside the tents are little sex traps. Each trap comes as a kit. Inside each "tent" place a small quantity of pheromone, which lures male codling moths to their death - once inside they are glued to the spot. With the males out of action, female codling moths remain infertile... They don't lay eggs, so the result is no maggots in your fruit.

Put the traps out as soon as the first males are flying. Put them out early this month, and leave them out until August, topping them off with a second helping of pheromone about halfway through the season.

Training and trimming
For upright varieties of tomatoes, tie the main stem up to a tall cane and tie in new extension growth each week. Nip out all side shoots, as they waste the energy of the plant. The flowers grow in trusses straight from the main stem of the plant - take care not to remove them by mistake when taking out side shoots.

for bush varieties, tie the mains tem to a short stake. Don't remove sideshoots, as they carry th fruit on bush varieties. We have a few given to us as gifts from neighbors, and these are called winter tomatoes, ready in August for eating all winter. I think we are to hang them up in a dark cool place until we need them. We'll worry about where that is...tomorrow....


June Checklist

-Mow and water lawns regularly>
-Propagate shrubs and roses by taking softwood cuttings.
-Remove suckers from roses.
-Keep on top of training climbing and rambling roses.
-Pinch dead flowers carefully from rhododendrons.
-Continue to clip fast growing hedges.
-Dig up tulip bulbs when the foliage dies off and store dry bulbs in a cool, dark shed ready to replant in autumn.
-Tidy up perennials after flowering.
-Plant out summer bedding plants.
-Sow fast growing annuals for autumn color
-Bring out any planted containers still in greenhouse.
-Wataer and feed containers and hanging baskets, and keep newly planted trees, shrubs, perennials watered when they get established.
-Deadhead flowers.
-Sow lettuce, rocket, spring onion, radish, maincrop carrots, peas, endive, sweet corn, French and runner beans, eggplants, squashes and pumpkin.
-Haveswt lettuce, rocket, radishes, spring onions, early potatoes, overwintering onions, last of the asparagus.
-Keep all fruit trees and bushes watered.
-Thin heavy crops of plums, apples and pears.
-Harvest rhubarb and strawberries.
-Continue to pot up rooted cuttings and pot young plants and seedlings.
--Plant new crops.
-Keep tying in and pinching out sideshoots of tomato plants and feed once a week.
-Continue pollinating melons and remove male flowers from cucumbers.
Watch out for:
-Blackspot, powdery mildew and rust on roses.
-Blackfly on broad beans.
General Tasks
Experts say that to call yourself a gardener you must grow at least a few plants from scratch. At this time of year, you don't really need a greenhouse. By sowing seeds or taking cuttings now, you can save money by growing plants you'd otherwise have to buy later.

Fill in gaps in borders with bedding plants. Water the plants thoroughly during dry spells, which is all the time in our part of Italia during June, and deadhead regularly. Keep on top of weeds.

If you have lawns and face a hot dry season as we do here, raise the blades of your mower up a couple of notches so you aren't cutting it so closely - it'll stay much greener during a drought.

Give new lawns a soaking at least a once a week. Established lawns can take care of themselves.

A little liquid feed in early summer will quickly turn your lawn green.

Trees, shrubs and climbers
Summer is the perfect time to propagate shrubs from softwood cuttings. Start propagating them as soon as this year's soft young shoots have grown big enough to use as cuttings - to around 4-6 inches - which, depending on how good the weather is, will be any time during June or July.

By autumn, the new plants will be well rooted and ready for potting, but leave them where they are until then. There's no need to rush.

How to take softwood cuttings from shrubs: 1. Snip soft shoot tips off the parent plant, and remove lower leaves. Make a clean cut across the base of the stem with a sharp knife, just before a node ( the place where a leaf joins the stem). If the remaining leaves are very large, cut them in half to reduce water loss. The cutting should be 3-4 inches long when prepared.
2. Dip the base of the cuttings in rooting powder, and dip them into well-prepared ground about 6 inches apart. Take more than you really need as they won't all root.
3. Water them in, then cover each cutting with a mini-cloche made by cutting a plastic water bottle in half. Use the top half as your cloche, with the cap screwed on to start with, so that humidity builds up underneath.
4. After two or three weeks you can remoe the cap to let in some fresh air as the cuttings begin to take root. Another 4 weeks or so later, ventilate more by removing the bottle a few hours each day, replacing it overnight. The idea is to acclimate the cuttings tot he outside air.

Roses: Propagating from cuttings:
1. Take rose cuttings as for shrubs, except cut the shoots when they are a bit bigger, about 6-8 inches long. Nip the growing tip out of the shoot before you get it to root, because the tips of rose cuttings are very soft and likely to develop fungal disease, which then kills off the whole plant.
2. You can root rose cuttings in the ground, as for shrubs, or push half a dozen cuttings in around the edge of an 8 inch pot filled with seed compost, and cover the top with a large, loose polythene bag after watering them in. Keep the cuttings in good light but out of direct sunlight, and water again as needed to stop the compost from drying out.
3. By autumn you'll have well rooted cuttings ready to pot individually. Don't be tempted to plant rooted cuttings straight out into the garden beds. Grow them on in pots until they are roughly as big as the plant you'd buy in a shop.

Rose diseases:
June is the height of flowering season, but it's also the time that rose disease start to show up.

Blackspot is usually the one you'll see first. It looks like ink spots on the leaves, which in a bad attack can spread until the entire leaves are covered. Then they drop off. Powdery mildew and rust may start to appear later this month, or not until later in the summer depending on the weather, but as a general rule, they'll show up more if the weather is hot and dry, as the plants are put under more stress.

For ridding roses of aphids, we spray once or twice a week with a mixture of one liter of water, eight ounces of denatured alcohol and two spritzes of liquid dish soap. They're prevalent on new shoots just as the blossoms appear.

Remove suckers from roses: Din't just snip suckers off at ground level, or they'll grow back stronger than ever; instead, trace each one back to its origins by digging down until you find the spot where the sucker grows out from a root, and then tear it out. It's far less likely to grow back.

Training roses: Keep on top of training climbing and rambling roses. Tie in new shoots regularly during the growing season so that they don't hang down. Where you want to train a young plant to cover a wall or arch, choose strong, well-placed stems arising for close to the base of the palnt, spread them out so they cover the area, and time them firmly to their supports using proper plastic pant ties so that they won't give way unexpectedly after a few years.

Some can be left in the view after blooming, like daffodils and snowdrops, but other are best dug up and stored under cover for the season.

Some bulbs are better dug up, dried off and stored after flowering. In these cases, dig the bulbs up once they are dormant, and dry them off and store them in a cool, airy shed for the summer. Spread them out in shallow trays or hang them up in an old vegetable net, so there's plenty of air circulation. Or at least that's what an English expert advises...

Here in hot, dry, Italy, we leave the tulips and hyacinths in the ground. Since they are from hot, dry places, such as Iran and Turkey, the ground dries out so they have a good summer "baking".

If yours aren't dry enough when dormant they will rot, so you may want to dig yours up. We'll take our chances with ours, although have been advised to plant them to a depth of 9 inches, which makes them more reliably perennial.

Remember that it doesn't work to leave spring bulbs in the same ground where you want to plant summer bedding, or even between conifers or rhododendrons, which you may need to water when dry, for the bulbs won't like being wet when they should be dry, and rotting is the usual outcome. Sigh. Let's see if our bulbs survive the summer...

As long as the required 6 weeks have passed since the bulbs finished flowering, you can not cut down the bulb foliage without causing problems.

Sow biennials:
Biennials are flowers that grow one year and flower the next. They include foxgloves (Digitalis), Campanula, Sweet William (dianthus), and are useful for filling all sort of gaps in a garden.

Sow biennials now in a vacant row in the vegetable patch. Prepare the ground and sow the seeds in shallow curves in the earth, sprinkling them as thinly as possible.

When the seedlings come up, thin them out to about 3-4 inches apart. Keep them watered and weeded and watch out for summer slugs and snails. Use a liquid tomato feed every 2-3 weeks.

By late summer or early autumn, they'll be ready to transplant to their flowering positions. And all this comes from just a packet of seeds and a few hours time.

Since warm weather continues until mid fall, with frost not appearing until at least late November, now is the time to sow hearty annual seeds for autumn bedding. Varieties include:: clarkia, limnanthes, candytuft and calendula. We'll try our luck with calendula, as we have the seeds.

Sow late annuals in the same way as biennials, in a spare patch of ground, and thin them out and feed them the same as biennials. They grow much faster than early, indoor-sown ones. When they're big enough, dig them up and move them to their flowering positions; apart from watering, they are no trouble in the meantime. Say, I think we'll try that!

Patios and containers
The big job all summer is keeping on top of watering and feeding. It's worth looking after containers, because regular care keeps the same set of plants looking beautiful right up until the first frosts.

When containers are first planted and the summer has not yet begun, you can water every few days. But once the weather warms up and the plants are growing faster, you may need to water every day, and feed a liquid food every week or two, depending on the weather.

Vegetables and herbs
Keep up with the vegetable patch:
As you use early crops, spaces start to appear in the vegetable patch. Each time you finish a row of lettuce or radishes, or even rocket, clear out the old roots and leaves, sprinkle organic fertilizer and work it in, then sow or plant your next crop.

We sow mixed lettuces every few weeks and also rocket, and have plenty to use all summer and fall. Before, we took the outer leaves from our lettuce plants first, then as the plants grew, they became tougher and the plants uglier. Now, we use an entire plant in a week or so, then take out the roots, and move in a plug that has been growing nearby from seed. It's fun to watch the changes, and the results are rewarding, as well as...delicious!

Early potatoes:
The first new potatoes are a big treat this month, but how to tell if they're ready without taking out the whole plant to take a look? Rummage around in the soil with your fingers. You'll soon be able to feel the fledgling spuds. If they're big enough, take out the largest and leave the rest where they will keep growing. It's amazing how quickly new potatoes star to "bulk up", and after a few weeks of pinching the odd few spuds you can dig up a plant at a time. Work a fork well down under the plant to "lift it", complete with roots and spuds, and then forage gently around in the soil so you don't leave half the crop behind. When you reach the end of the row, re-use the space to grow something else!

Overwintering onions:
Overwintering onions will be ready to use this month. These are the onions that were planted last September which have grown slowly right through the winter and are now small but perfectly acceptable early-season onions.

Tree maintenance:
Keep all fruit trees and bushes well watered in dry weather to prevent the developing fruit from being shed prematurely.

Plums, apples and pears:
* Thin heavy crops of plums early in the month to prevent branches breaking. After the June drop (when small fruits fall naturally to thin the crop), thin again in July if it seems necessary. This is a good technique to stop Victoria plums from falling into the common habit of carrying very heavy crops one year and nothing the next.
* After the June drop, thin out apples and pears if they have set very heavy crops. Reduce the fruit to no more than one per 4 inches of branch.
* Put up pheromone traps to protect plums and apples against codling moth if not done before.
* If fan-trained apple or pear trees have been neglected, now is the time to prune them. Simply cut out any bushy stems sticking out from the framework of branches toward the path, taking care to avoid those parts of the branch that carry fruit.

Harvest rhubarb. Continue pulling sticks of rhubarb until the end of the month, then let the plants grow naturally to recover their strength.

In the Serra (Greenhouse)
Plant new crops:
There's still time to plant summer greenhouse crops, such as peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and eggplant. But do this at the beginning of the month, for late in the month is amost too late to expect plants to ripen, especially tomatoes and melons, by the end of the summer, and peopers and eggplants won't have enough time to produce a worthwhile crop.

Greenhouse plants grown in May will need regular attention with organic liquid tomato feed once a week. Remember to remove the male flowers from cucumber plants, or they'll develop hard seeds inside and taste bitter.

TABLE OF CONTENTS                               CONTACT US.