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Thoughts on making the most of perfect June days

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade?”

— Gertrude Jekyll, Gardens for Small Country Houses, 1912

I agree with Gertrude Jekyll that June is an especially pleasant month in the garden. Vegetables are growing, flowers are blooming, birds are nesting and bees and butterflies are active — all of which create a satisfying multisensory experience that reminds me why I enjoy gardening so much.

This period of relative calm comes between the hard labor of preparing and sowing the garden in April and May, and the exertion of keeping the garden under control and healthy during the heat of July and August. As a parent, I remember feeling a similar sense of comparative tranquility between my children’s toddlerhood and teenage years.

However, that’s not to say there is no work to be done in the garden during June. Here are a few items to put on your garden to-do list this month, as recommended by the Oregon State University Extension Service and the Jackson County Master Gardener Association.

Are you growing potatoes? If so, be sure to mound up soil or mulch around the stems when they reach 8 inches high, leaving half the stem exposed. Hilling potatoes this way will keep the soil cooler and protect tubers from the sun’s heat, which causes a toxic green pigment in the flesh called solanin. Remember that potatoes need consistent watering to grow well.

This is also the month to direct-seed sweet corn, which should be sown at a different time than other corn varieties to prevent cross-pollination. Also, pollination is assisted by planting corn in multiple short rows that are more accessible for pollinators than one long row. Keep in mind that corn needs moist soil for successful production. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer when corn is 8 inches high and again when the stalks are waist-high.

Your cantaloupes also will benefit from fertilizing this month once the plants begin to vine, and again when the fruit has grown to an inch or two in diameter. Tests run by the OSU Extension Service have shown that sugar content in cantaloupes increases by mixing 1 teaspoon of household borax (boron) and 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt (magnesium) with 1 gallon of water, and applying directly to the plants’ leaves.

Other gardening reminders include pinching back the growing tip of eggplant when plants are 6 inches tall; this encourages branching that will better support the weight of the fruit. In addition, your tomato plants will need consistent watering to help prevent blossom-end rot. Tomatoes also need protection from the heat if temperatures rise above 95 degrees F, so be prepared with shade cloth.

Gertrude Jekyll is just one of many writers who have waxed eloquent about the month of June. In the 19th century, James Russell Lowell also declared, “And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.”

Let’s make the most of this precious time in the garden while it lasts.

Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Reach her at rnowak39@gmail.com.