A fellow gardener and I were commiserating about the weeds in our gardens, and she gave me a few words of wisdom. “If I am working really hard to make my soil desirable for all of my specimen plants, then it’s only natural that the weeds will find my garden desirable as well.” How true. I certainly have a bumper crop right now. At least with a good layer of mulch, the roots will be much easier to remove since their grip in mulch is minimal when compared to roots in soil.
WEEDING…I do not recommend attempting to weed everything at one time unless you are working with a good crew. Instead, just tackle a small area at a time. If you are walking around and can pull only a handful of weeds, do so, and lay them just outside the bed for disposal at a later date. I usually only do the disposal 1x per week. If you have 1 hour to weed, pick the most offensive area, set your timer, and simply stop when the time is up. At least you will have started the process. I usually have trouble stopping, and my back is always angry with me later.
WHEN TO WATER…The temperatures have already started to soar, and later in the summer, we will experience the August drought. As a rule of thumb, if we experience a change in temperature of 20 degrees or greater, your plants will feel stressed, and will benefit from additional water. Plants that are beneath a dense canopy or are protected by an overhang will not reap the benefits of a good rain. Be sure to give these challenged areas additional water. If you see the plant begin to droop, or the leaves to curl, then check the soil. If 2 inches below grade is dry, then provide extra water. A long gentle steady soak is better than a short drenching. You want the water to have a chance to really soak in deep before the heat of the day evaporates all of the good work you have done, so water early in the day before 10am or late after 5pm. If these time slots for you don’t seem to work, just remember that anything you do is better than nothing when your plants are stressed.
HELLEBORUS…The flower stalks on Helleborus should be cut back close to the ground around the beginning of June. If you still have flowers on your plants, do cut them back if you have the time. A lot of energy will go to the development of seed rather than the growth of the plant. If the seeds are allowed to disperse, you may wind up with hundreds of baby plants. These babies are easy to transplant if desired.
PERENNIALS THAT FLOP…Some perennials become so tall that they become top heavy, and have a tendency to flop, especially after a good rain. Many of us resort to bamboo stakes and ties to keep them upright, but for some plants, there is an easier solution. In June, cut the plant height in half before it starts to flower. This encourages additional branching and a shorter ultimate height which in turn prevents the ‘flop.’ The plant may bloom a little later than normal, but it will still bloom and be lovely. Some of the ideal plants for cutting back include: Aconitum, Aster, Amsonia, Baptisia australis, Boltonia, Coreopsis tripteris, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Phlox maculata or Phlox paniculata, Platycodon grandiflorus, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, and Helianthus salicifolius. Pinching is another good option, especially for Sedum. Snap off the top 1/3 to 1/2 of each stem by hand (they do snap off if you do this with a quick motion). It actually does not take that long to do, and the outcome is much better than if you simply shear the plant. If your flopping plant does not appear on this list, contact me. I’ll be happy to look up the specifics of your plant.
PERENNIALS THAT REBLOOM…AFTER DEAD HEADING….You will be able to coax an additional bloom from many of your perennials if you dead head them immediately after blooming. This works extremely well with Echinacea / Coneflower, Leucanthemum / Shasta Daisy, Salvia, and Veronica.
PRUNE SPRING FLOWERING SHRUBS…Now is the perfect time to prune spring flowering shrubs such as Azalea, Fothergilla, Pieris, Rhododendron, Spiraea 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.
PERENNIALS AND HERBACEOUS SHRUBS THAT BENEFIT FROM SHEARING…Some Perennials and Herbaceous Shrubs can be pruned after flowering, and will appear to be shrubs all season. Most notably are Amsonia hubrichtii / Threadleaf Bluestar, Baptisia australis / False Indigo, and Paeonia lactifolia (the Peonies that start fresh from the ground every year). For the Amsonia and Baptisia, I simply shear these below the spent flowers, creating a nice soft mound. The Peonies should be selectively pruned back to foliage you like. With this plant, be on the lookout for Powdery Mildew. When that appears, cut the plant back to the undamaged foliage. At the end of the summer when the Powdery Mildew appears on my plants, I simply cut the whole plant down to the ground.
RENEW UNSIGHTLY PERENNIAL FOLIAGE…Foliage 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 2-3 inches if there is none. Usually, the plant will generate new, healthy, disease free foliage that 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.