I love watching the plants unfold. The rhythm of blooms from early spring until frost keeps us intrigued, and we always want to keep the blooms and the foliage going strong for as long as we can. But how to care for all the plants we love? The best advice is to avoid trying to do too much on any given day. Just tackle a small portion at a time, and be thorough. Eventually, you will make it around to everything.
PRUNE SPRING FLOWERING SHRUBS…. Now is the perfect time to prune spring flowering shrubs such as Azalea, Pieris, Rhododendron, Spirea and Viburnum. After the flowers have dropped off, you can safely prune, and the plant will have plenty of time for the buds to set for next year.
DEAD HEADING PERENNIALS DOES HELP….Most perennials only bloom once a year. After the blooms are finished, it does help to cut the flower stem down to the height of the attractive foliage. This prevents unnecessary energy flowing to the development of seed, and instead flows into the development of the root system. If you want to propagate your plants from seed, then leave at least a few flowers for this purpose.
COLLECTING SEED TO GROW YOUR OWN….I have trouble keeping a few of my perennials going, such as ‘Nora Barlow’ Columbine / Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’, and of course Foxglove / Digitalis which is a biennial. For these, I collect the seeds before their capsules burst, and I plant them quite shallow in a designated part of my garden. It’s in the back and out of sight. I know where to look for the progeny of my effort, and I’m careful not to be too hasty about weeding. The germination has worked well. Unfortunately, I’ve been a bit lazy about transplanting the young plants to more ideal locations later, but at least I have the option to do so.
WHEN TO LEAVE THE PERENNIALS ALONE….Many birds love the seeds produced by our plants, and sometimes the dried seed heads are very attractive in the winter. A prime example is Black-Eyed Susan / Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’. After the flowers are finished, you are left with the round, black center which persists all winter long, and is quite attractive against the snow.
RENEW UNSIGHTLY FOLIAGE…Foliage of our perennials can discolor during the growing season either from too much sun (Sun Scorch) or too much humidity (Powdery Mildew). There are other afflictions as well, but the key is whether the appearance of the foliage bothers you. If so, cut down the plant to the height of fresh new foliage or to a height of 2-3 inches if all of the foliage is bad. Usually, the plant will generate new, healthy, disease free foliage this season. In the rare case that foliage does not reappear, don’t panic. There is a very good chance that the plant will still appear again next year.
WEEDING AND WATERING… will be the greatest challenge for JULY. When I walk past a weed, I generally stoop down to pull it, and then just leave the weeds in a small pile next to the bed. Then, when I actually take some time for ‘gardening’, I pick up all the piles. It may not be the prettiest way to handle it, but it does seem to help. For large areas of weeds, RoundUp is my new best friend. The poison is absorbed through the leaves, and then heads down into the root system to kill the plant. Extreme caution should be used to protect the leaves of plants you want to keep. There are some organic options available including one that involves vinegar, but I have yet to try them.
The DROUGHT… will probably arrive in July / August, and we will all need to watch our water consumption. The rain we’ve been enjoying throughout June has been a true gift, especially when compared with the lack of rain during the months of April and May. I know most of us have learned to avoid watering in the evening to avoid mold and mildew developing on the foliage. When we experience extreme heat, sometimes an evening watering is actually the best way to go. At least the water will have a chance to soak into the soil without immediate evaporation by the sun. I frequently water between 6p-10pm. If you have a timer, you can water at 3 or 4am. Remember, a thorough soaking for 15 – 30 minutes 2 times per week is much better than a brief spritz daily.
GARDENING GEAR….Whenever I head out into the garden, there are a few favorites that are always with me. For weeding, minor digging and cutting the roots of a root bound plant, I love using the Classic Soil Knife. It is reminiscent of a good quality hunting knife, but without the sharp edge. Also, my Felco Pruners have been with me for about 20 years. I like Felco Model 2. With a leather sheath for each, I strap them on, and I’m good to go. If you have trouble finding these, go to www.amleo.com. A.M. Leonard carries both, and they have the leather sheath as well.
Keep some Horticultural Oil on hand to clean and lubricate your gardening tools. The last thing you want is to spread a pest or disease through the use of your tools.
I have a badly compromised lower back, so I need to take precautions in the garden. One of my smartest investments has been Plastic Cap Knee Pads with Gel Lining, available at Home Depot or Lowes. A masonry contractor recommended them, and the Gel Lining has really saved my knees.
Men, please bear with me while I digress into clothing. Many gals have a challenge finding good pants or shorts to wear in the garden. For years, L.L. Bean has been my ‘Go To’ resource for good, rugged Cargo Pants or their Tropical Wear Pants. Just the other day, I was introduced to www.duluthwomen.com. Their Feature-Packed Non-Stop Ripstop Pants look promising, and worth a try. They have a convenient knee pad pouch, but I do not recommend using their knee pads, since you are likely to wear a hole in your pants at the knees in no time. Use the strap-on version mentioned above. If you try the Duluth pants, please let me know if they work for you.
HAVE A NICE SUMMER, AND ENJOY YOUR GARDENS.