The best time to weed your garden may, ironically, not be every chance you get. Weeding, a necessary adjunct to successful gardening, can have an adverse effect on your garden if done at the wrong time.

For instance, weeding when the soil is wet has some undesirable consequences. First, weeding when soil and plants are wet, as in after a rain or after watering, can induce mildew in some plants, especially beans. If you don’t want mildewed bean leaves, stay out of the garden when it is wet. It is best not even to harvest wet beans, because if you do, mildew will follow.

Also, if you pull weeds when the soil is wet, chances are that some of your seedlings and young plants will come along with the weeds. Wet soil clumps up and when you pull a weed, it usually brings along with it anything growing nearby. There is a solution.

Try weeding when the soil is quite dry, not a problem during midsummer when the real challenge is to keep the soil adequately moist. With dry, crumbly soil, weeds easily slip from the ground, roots and all, without harm to nearby plants.

Some weeds grow not only near our garden plants, but also among them. Galinsoga, or “quickweed,” stands as one of the more aggressive garden weeds. This plant has coarse-toothed leaves that are widest in the middle and tapered at the end. Galinsoga also grows quickly, which explains why people refer to it as quickweed. Pulling galinsoga when soil is damp invariably results in damaged garden plants.

Lamb’s quarters, too, another aggressive garden weed, grows fast and large. If left unchecked, it will smother your plants. To prevent damage to your garden plants, remove both lamb’s quarters and Galinsoga when soil is dry.

Measureable growth

Now, during the heat of summer, garden plants and accompanying weeds grow so rapidly that their growth can be measured on a daily basis. So after a long, backbreaking session on hands and knees, your garden will look wonderful, but the weeds will come back, and sooner than it seems possible. For that reason, we need to adopt a program of regular maintenance. That can be accomplished with a garden hoe.

Hoeing between rows keeps weeds at bay. Trouble begins during wet spells, when wet ground prohibits hoeing. So try lightly hoeing your garden at regular intervals during dry weather to keep aggressive weeds to a minimum.

Of course this means that garden rows must be far enough apart so that the hoe won’t damage plant roots. I mentioned in this column last year that it’s easy to choose a spacing when planting, only to learn that rows are still too close later on. This year I took my own advice and planted everything further apart than seemed necessary. And guess what? It worked out fine. If anything, I could have set rows a bit further apart. Remember this next spring at planting time.

Finally, weeds restrict plant growth. By procrastinating, we allow weeds to smother our plants. Of course if we have an extended wet spell, there’s not much we can do about it. But as soon as things dry out, it’s time to get out and attack the weeds.

Carrots, especially, take a long time to mature and if we lose weeks of growth to weeds, our crop will be set back by a commensurate period of time.

Artificial mulch

One way to prevent weeds from appearing in the first place is to place black plastic or other commercially available mulch between rows. This was something I always avoided, because I didn’t like the appearance of the black mulch. But this year, after due consideration, I decided to give mulch a try on my sweet corn bed. It has worked wonderfully.

Black mulch has another benefit. The soil between rows needn’t be tilled. To plant next year, just take a hoe, trowel, or other garden tool and turn over the soil between sections of mulch. No muss, no fuss, and also no gasoline tiller needed.

I may expand this concept further next season. And regarding appearance, a good way to spruce things up is to cover the black artificial mulch with shredded bark mulch. This looks neat and well-kept.

I experimented with this concept this year. Two of my raised beds were only about three feet apart and weeding was difficult. So early on, I laid down layers of black mulch between the two beds and then spread bark mulch on top. Thus far, no weeds have protruded through the layers of mulch. If this continues throughout the growing season, I’ll pronounce it a good move.

Many of the garden weeds that plague us are self-seeding to the point that once established, they can never be fully eradicated. So mulching makes all kinds of sense. But barring mulching, just remember on wet days to leave weeds alone and when things dry out, go for them with a vengeance.

Daylily time

July is for daylilies. Gardeners today have a dazzling array of daylilies to choose from, with many different colors and even many multi-colored species.

Daylilies are so-called because each day a new flower opens. And by the next day, that flower will have shriveled and faded and a new flower will take its place. Thankfully, daylilies don’t bloom all at once, but rather, the sequence of opening occurs regularly over a period of time, often two weeks or so.

Also, daylilies become overgrown to the point where they need dividing. Just take a too-thick clump of daylilies and with a spade, dig and divide into two or three parts. Replace one section back where it came from and plant the rest anywhere you wish. Thus in a matter of years, you will have many more daylilies than when you began.

We in Maine are fortunate to have numerous outlets for daylily fans. Scattered around the hills and valleys of our state are small perennial farms, and many of these offer a good variety of daylilies. Larger outlets too, even some chains, sell daylilies. And garden centers large and small also offer various kinds of daylilies.

Most of the daylilies in my garden came from The Maine Garden in Waldo. The Maine Garden offers daylily types bred on-site by proprietor Bill Warman. Many of these aren’t seen in other venues.

While we usually think of daylilies, no matter the type, as being of a uniform size, that isn’t the case at all. Some have longer, larger leaves and the lilies grow on longer stems. Even the flowers themselves are considerably larger on the larger varieties than on the smaller ones.

This allows the gardener to create a balanced appearance, with the smaller, shorter daylilies in front, medium-sized plants in the middle and the largest in the back.

In years past, most people thought only of the common orange daylilies seen along roadsides. These are escapees from long-vanished gardens. And while these simple daylilies have much to recommend them, newer hybrid varieties offer far more species.

Many years ago, when I was running a perennial plant business, daylilies were nowhere near as popular as they are today. And then a new hybrid Oriental lily (looks like a daylily but in a different classification) called Stargazer came on the market and the world of Oriental lilies and daylilies hasn’t been the same since. Stargazer still stands as a good choice.

The Stargazer name stems (pun intended) from the fact that the flower faces up, as if gazing at the sky.

With flowers capable of reaching a diameter of 6 inches or more, Stargazer makes a good specimen planting. Also, Stargazer lilies have an extremely powerful, captivating fragrance. A clump of Stargazer lilies placed in a strategic location will provide form, color and fragrance for years to come.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to buy daylilies or Oriental lilies. And the best way to choose from the large array of species is to go to a nursery and view the plants in bloom. After selecting your choice or choices, choose a plant that hasn’t yet flowered, if at all possible. Plant in your garden in a good, rich soil and water thoroughly. And after that, keep well-watered, since this will allow your new lily to prosper and grow. Next year, when daylily time comes around again, you’ll be amazed at how your lilies have grown.

Finally, here’s a word on plant names. Daylilies are spelled without a hyphen. In my last column I made reference to daylilies and somewhere along the line “daylilies” got changed to “day-lilies.” In both the singular or plural forms, daylily or daylilies, its one word, not two.

Tom’s tips

All our garden herbs are producing now, making tasty additions to most meals. To reap the utmost in flavor from your precious plants, pick in the early morning, before sunlight warms the plants. Herbs picked in the afternoon will not have as much flavor.

Also, if you have enough, try drying some of your herbs for use next winter. Just remember when using the dried product that drying increases potency, so use only half as much dried herb as you would fresh.