Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
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"Gardening By the Yard Column."
Early Summer Gardening Tips
(Posted June 1, 2008)
Mother Nature certainly has gardeners singing - or at least humming - Rodgers and Hammerstein's lyrics to "June is Bustin' Out All Over" (from the Broadway musical Carousel) this year!
The abundant rains and wonderfully moderate temperatures (so far) have given us luscious growth on plants, shrubs, and trees - a wonderful contrast to last year's woefully dry season. Hopefully you finished all those spring chores and are about to finish the summer planting before the hotter summer temperatures take over.
Hibiscus - A Tropical Touch
One favorite tropical for our gardens is the hibiscus which grows well either in large containers (make sure the container can accommodate root growth) or in the ground. Remember it is a tropical, therefore not hardy in this area. If you want to keep the plant over the winter, you must bring it inside; however, the plants are readily available and cheap enough to treat simply as a special annual.
Hibiscus does best in full sun to partial shade and likes to be kept moderate to very moist with regular feedings for continuous flowering. (Do not let the plant become dry, but by the same token don't kept the soil "swampy".)
Yellowing leaves usually mean a nitrogen deficiency which can be corrected by applying some slow release fertilizer. Flowers only last one day, so be sure to dead head (remove dead flowers) it regularly.
A healthy plant means continuous flowering, so the one- bloom - a - day characteristic isn't really bad news! And it's a perfect patio plant.
Hydrangeas Mean Summer
Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) will be coming into their own soon. Nothing says "summer" more than a well-established hydrangea with mop headed flowers of white, pink, blue, or even close to red. Hydrangeas do well in shade, but too much shade results in reduced flowering. It is best to give them a north or east facing site that is in light shade to partial sun with moist (well drained) organically enriched soil. Mulch to keep the roots cool.
Hydrangeas (the new "Endless Summer variety is an exception) set buds the previous year, so it is important to remove only deadwood in the spring - and not to prune heavily in the spring - so you do not remove the flower buds.
A slow release fertilizer applied in June and again in August will keep your plants healthy and happy. Pruning, when necessary, should be done immediately after flowering to shape the shrub.
One striking hydrangea variety is 'Limelight' with chartreuse foliage, but the old fashioned blue and pink ones really make a spectacular show. The "lace cap" variety blooms with flat, rather than mop, flowers.
Consider using potted specimen plants in your border for instant impact. Home Depot frequently has mature flowering plants which can be situated - pot and all - in the foliage of other plants. (Try to hide the pot in the foliage of existing plants so it looks "natural".) Such placement gives an instant "pop" to the border and can be changed out and replaced when desired.
This idea works well with potted tropical plants, often available now at reduced prices. Tropicals lend a nice contrast to the foliage and blossoms of our more "normal" garden plants. The multicolored leaves of tropical crotons make a big splash in the summer border.
Sometimes container gardens need watering twice a day, especially as the containers become root bound from growth.
Most plants - annuals and perennials - benefit from pinching out the top growth to encourage bushy, compact plants with more flowers.
Periodically loosen the mulch in your border to allow rain to penetrate.
If you are lucky enough to have a lilac in your garden, remove the dead blooms so the shrub's energy goes to new growth, not seed formation.
Feed camellias and azaleas with a fertilizer especially designed for these shrubs. Prune azaleas after flowering to reshape or rejuvenate. This shrub also blooms on "old wood" and sets buds in the summer. Pruning late in the season removes the buds.
Pinch chrysanthemums until July 1 to produce short, compact plants. Without pinching (removing the stem down to a set of leaves), the plants grow too tall and "flop" when they flower in the fall.
Regularly feed container gardens. Frequent waterings (required in hot weather) cause a depletion of nutrients which must be replaced if the plant is to continue growing. Liquid plant food such as Peters or Miracle Grow work well, but be sure to follow the container's directions carefully.
- Keep your plants consistently moist; this is especially true as we head into the hot summer months.
- Deadhead annuals (remove spent flowers) to keep them blooming all season. Also prune to reshape annuals if they become spindly and leggy so they will produce new, fuller growth.
With routine and regular care now, you will be able to enjoy your garden all summer - which brings me back to another Rodgers and Hammerstein song - "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific! After all the work, don't forget to enjoy the fruits of your labors and relax in the evening garden with its colors and scents!
In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.
|Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area. |
Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.
Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.
Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.