JoAnne Skelly: A gardener’s work is never done

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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Planting is one of the more enjoyable, fairly easy tasks for a gardener. Yes, digging a big hole for a tree can be challenging, but putting small plants in prepared ground is a delight. The never-ending work is the day-to-day maintenance tasks to keep a garden or landscape in order.

Speaking of endless work, I had a busy week maintenance-wise. Since I hadn’t been able to work outside during the recent rains, I had gotten behind on many chores. It took days to cut off all the dead flowers on my lilacs and forsythia. These spring flowering shrubs have to be pruned just after blooming to allow the growth needed for next year’s flower buds to develop. If left past mid-July, there won’t be any flowers next spring.

As I was pruning out the old flowers, I also cut out any dead wood. The forsythia was in poor condition, so I pruned it heavily to shape it as well as to remove the spent flowers and dead wood. Since forsythia stems are hollow, I put white school glue on the cut end of every stem to prevent insects getting inside. Nesting, eating insects can kill an entire branch down to the main trunk.

Although it is late to fertilize the lawn, I did it anyway using a 21-0-0 (21 percent nitrogen, zero phosphorus and potassium). I had hoped to fertilize earlier, but the heavy rains would have washed the nutrients right out of my sandy soil. I fertilized on a cool day and watered the fertilizer in thoroughly to avoid burning the grass.

If you haven’t fertilized lawns yet, I recommend using a slow-release fertilizer. Organic lawn fertilizers, for example, are great at this time of year, rather than a high nitrogen product like I applied. These other products won’t burn with the summer heat that is finally here.

The irises bloomed profusely, so deadheading them was another necessity. Of course, any time I’m out in the yard, I’m always pulling weeds as I spot a seedling I know will be a pain later if I let it grow. I also spread yards and yards of wood chips on my planting and tree beds.

I drag hoses every week to outlying trees and turn drip systems on and off, since they aren’t connected to the irrigation timer. There always seems to be at least one broken, clogged sprinkler or a valve issue somewhere that needs fixing.

Did I mention, a gardener’s work is never done?

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension educator emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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