June, June, June! The month every gardener spends the rest of the year dreaming about. The longest days of the year. Generally reasonable weather with frosts behind us and droughts/flash floods still to come. And, after months of planning, sowing, potting up, and planting out, the garden is a go. We have finally hit the sweet spot. So time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor? I don’t think so! 

It may seem that the heavy lifting has been done by now, but the devil is in the details when it comes to gardening, and you don’t want to miss some windows of opportunity that occur in June. This is (some of) what we’ll be up to in our garden this month. 

Weed them weeds

My first piece of advice is ironically not about the plants you’ve invested time and/or money in but instead it’s about weeds. The definition of a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place, either where you don’t want it or where it is going to be a bully to those you do want to thrive. The problem with weeds is that because they are so perfectly attuned to the environment wherever they lay their hats, they’re going to be the boss. 

Going native

There has been lots of chat in recent years about rewilding, meadowscapes, and the use of native plants in our gardens. All of which are wonderful and possible to do without investing thousands of dollars and calling in the experts. I discovered this by accident when having left our spring bulb foliage to die back one year, I never found the time to tackle mowing these areas once this had happened. Instead, along with the long grass, they became a haven for hesperis, goldenrod, asters, fleabane, and milkweed, attracting all kinds of lovely insects and adding height, color, and interest to the garden for months on end. Zero dollars, no effort, and saves me multiple occasions of getting in a temper trying to mow around all the low branches of the orchard trees. 

So, for some weeds I’m all “Please come on in and make yourself at home.” For other places, where you don’t want the weeds, you need to get your skates on now. 

I would estimate a good 40% of my summer gardening time is spent weeding. I can tell you not just what month but almost what week of the month it is by the arrival of particular weeds. I can rank weeds 1-10 on their ‘pullability’. I can tell you which are are really not so bad and which are devious little … that, once established, are like the garden equivalent of bedbugs. Near on impossible to get rid of. My best advice is to get on top of those weeds as soon as they appear. Do not let them get well rooted and, God forbid, do not let them go to seed. Some hands and knees time and perhaps an achy back now will pay off hugely for the rest of the summer.

Clip them, thin them, and cut ‘em back

Next up, I suggest you get out your clippers and loppers. I know everything has barely got flowering, but bear with me because some judicious pruning, thinning, and cutting back pays benefits that will last through this summer and long beyond.

First, we are going to think about clipping back those plants that have already flowered. First up, woody shrubs. These need pruning at some point each year to maintain both shape and/or height, health, and vigor. It’s when to do this that is very important. Some plants bloom on new wood and some on old. You need to know which type your shrubs are. Pruning them at the wrong time won’t affect this year’s blooms but it most definitely will impact next year’s. What you are looking to identify for now is old wood bloomers. These need trimming back into shape this year right after flowering. If you leave them until next spring, you will wind up cutting off next year’s flowers.

I know this might seem a minefield, but the key to this exercise is to actually know the name and specific variety of your shrubs. I have an old shoe box with just about every plant tag I’ve ever invested in for just this occasion. One day I will sort it into categories so it doesn’t take me half an hour to find that one elusive hydrangea tag for which I’m searching. What my children (with an eye roll) would tell me to do is just snap a photo and ask an app on my phone to instantly identify the plant in question. Each to their own! 

While thinking about keeping a grip on the size of the shrub, be guided by the plant’s natural growth patterns. It is also key to ensure that sun and air can get into the branches in the center of the plant. Cut back any dead wood and any criss-crossing branches. I know pruning can be painful – I definitely fall into the all-or-nothing camp of veering from too timid or going all-out Mad Max. But even if it ends up being a little more dramatic than you first thought, despair not, like being talked into some ill-advised bangs at the hairdresser, they will grow back – and all the healthier and more vigorous for it. 

Fresh as a daisy

Something else to keep in mind for the end of the month or early July is pruning back your early flowering perennials. Hopefully you remembered to do the Chelsea chop last month. This is the technique of cutting back the height of a lot of perennials – nepeta, phlox, sedums, achillea, echinacea, penstemons and rudbeckia – by a third. It is used to control their growing habits; think shorter bushier plants vs. flopping and splaying, all-over-the-place after five minutes and a sprinkle of rain – and/or delay the normal flowering time of these plants so they give an extra three weeks of late summer color when everything else is beginning to run out of steam. 

If you miss this window with these or with other perennials, such as salvias and hardy geraniums, whose first exuberant bloom has passed, this is a perfect way to have a second later-season flush of color. And I don’t just mean giving them a gentle snip but cut hard to just above the ground. I know it’s painful to do, but this will give them a second fresh-as-a-daisy flush in a few weeks’ time. 

Finally, in the chop-chop department, and this is really my husband’s realm: tomatoes. We joke – ha, ha, but it is true – that my husband spends the same amount of time tending to his eight tomato plants as I do on the 80,000 other plants in our garden. I agree that sunlight and air circulation are again key here to avoid the dreaded blight, and the sniping back of excessive growth is crucial. Whether it needs to take as long each day as a brain surgeon in the OR is a debate you will have to take up with your own tomato enthusiast.

Christmas shopping in summer

And one last job for June, I know this seems nuts, and I’m in danger of being a smug Christmas shopper who is done by Columbus Day, but this is the best time to get your bulb orders in for next spring while all your spring garden thought are still fresh in your mind. (I guarantee you will not remember a thing by September otherwise.) Your orders won’t be delivered until time for planting in late October, but place them now, and you will avoid disappointment when favorites sell out.

Finally, and most importantly, despite the instructions to work your socks off all month out there, a plea to remember to stop and savor the joy of your June garden. It is too easy to get obsessed with making everything perfect. Gardens are not meant to be perfect. They are always works in progress. June is a magic month for gardeners in this part of the world. Make sure you step back and enjoy the fruits of your labors – even if they are still on-going. •

Pom Shillingford is an obsessive gardener originally from England and now based in Salisbury, CT. She offers seasonal cut flowers through English Garden Grown. Find her on Instagram @english_garden_grown.