» Archive for July, 2008

Mid-Summer Gardening

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. Watch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • Sow seeds of perennials like columbine, coreopsis, delphiniums and cone-flowers now for planting in the fall and blooms next year.
    • Check for squash, or “stink”, bugs on squash and pumpkins. Hand-pick grey-brown adults and destroy red egg clusters on the undersides of leaves. Use pyrethrins to control heavy infestations.
    • Keep flowers and vegetables in peak condition by giving them a midsummer feeding with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.

Pinch, Snip and Shear

Grooming the flower garden is part of the regular maintenance needed to keep your flower beds looking their best all spring, summer and fall. Although summer grooming is a necessary chore, flower-garden maintenance can almost always wait until you have time for it.

A 100- to 200-square-foot flower garden needs just a few minutes of tending a week , with a couple of hours of major cleanup several times a year.

Annual flowers, like petunias and marigolds, need regular attention. They know that if they can produce enough seeds, their job is done and so they will stop blooming. To keep them blooming, snip off the faded flowers including the seed head just below the petals. This is called “deadheading”.

Perennial flowers, which come back year after year, usually bloom for a short period of about 3 weeks sometime during the spring or summer. Some plants replace flowers with really attractive seedheads. But others scatter their seeds all over the garden, and you often wind up with dozens of baby plants that you have to pull out to avoid ending up with daisies all over the garden. Cutting off flowers before they form seeds prevents this maintenance headache.

Many perennials stop blooming after they form seeds. Removing the fading flowers before they can complete the process encourages them to bloom longer. Cut the stem down to the first leaves or flower bud you come to.

If you like your flowers really big, you may want to indulge in the practice of disbudding. Before the buds start to open, remove all but one or two flower buds on each stem. The plant then directs all its energy into the remaining buds, resulting in large flowers. Gardeners commonly disbud dahlias, chrysanthemums, peonies, and carnations.

To keep perennials denser and shorter, you may want to pinch or shear them a couple of times early in the season. Pinching creates more compact, bushier plants, prevents flopping, and ensures more blooms. This process is called pinching because you can actually pinch off the top of each stem between your thumb and forefinger — but using scissors or pruning shears is sometimes quicker and easier.

Snip (or pinch) off the top few inches of the plant when it grows to a foot tall in spring and again in the middle of summer. Every stem you cut grows several new stems. The result is stocky sprays of more, but smaller, flowers. Chrysanthemums and asters are two perennials that are routinely pinched, otherwise, they tend to get floppy.

Other perennials, like helianthemums and Iberis sempervirens, that have finished flowering can be cut back so they will make more compact new growth for the following year. The tired stems of foxglove and delphinium can be cut to the ground to clean up the plants.

Grooming is a quiet time. A time to enjoy the birds and the butterflies as you enhance the beauty of your garden.

Enjoying the Flower Garden

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Gaura is a carefree perennial which has been nicknames “Whirling Butterflies.” It comes with white or pink flowers or with variegated foliage.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool-season crops now. Transplant them to the garden next month and they will be producing for you this fall.
    • Remove suckers on rose bushes. These vigorous canes emerge from below the bud union and should be cut off as far down as possible.
    • Fuchsias will bloom all summer if you remove faded flowers and seed pods and fertilize every ten days with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro.
    • Fountains create the sound of moving water that is restful and cooling on the patio or in the garden. They recirculate water so only an occasional “topping off” is necessary.

Edible Flowers back in Vogue

Many of the plants we now grow for their flowers were once grown for their flavors as well. Today, the ancient art of cooking with flowers is enjoying a revival, and many restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks are garnishing their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.

Daylilies are one of the many flowers that have been used in cooking. Natives of the Orient, daylilies are a common staple in Chinese households. These colorful flowering perennials are also very popular garden plants today. The blossoms come in yellow, orange, red and many shades in between. Each blossom lasts only a day, but the plants bloom so profusely that they are attractive for a long time.

Long before daylilies reached Western gardens, they were grown in the fields of central China and valued for their delicate flavor. The buds were eaten as a spring tonic, and extra buds were dried for use during the winter.

Pick daylily flowers in the afternoon. (You’ll not be missing much bloom because they will be faded by the next day.) Wash in cool water and pat them dry. Use them in soups and stir fries or add them to the salad.

Other common edible flowers include nasturtiums, Johnny-Jump-Ups, borage, chive blossoms, calendulas, dianthus, hollyhock, marigold and sunflowers. Nasturtiums are among the most delicious edible flowers, with a mildly spicy flavor. Johnny-Jump-Ups make lovely garnishes and decorations and have a faint wintergreen taste that is pleasant to the palate.

The dainty star-shaped, sky-blue flowers of borage add a cool cucumbery flavor to the salad. Chive blossoms, in lavender-pink, have a subtle onion flavor that goes well with salads, eggs and potatoes. The bright yellow and orange flowers of calendulas, which prefer the cooler days of spring and fall, are also edible. Pull out the flower petals and add them to salads, rice dishes, eggs and cheese for a tangy, slightly bitter flavor.

Dianthus have a mild clove flavor that is used as a garnish for fruit salads and cold drinks. Hollyhock petals are used in salads for a mild, sweet flavor. Marigolds lend a spicy, citrusy flavor to salads and sunflower petals have a bittersweet flavor.

Do be cautious about eating flowers. Allergic reactions are always possible with any new food, so sample sparingly the first time you try any edible flower. It is possible that people who suffer from hay fever will have a bad reaction from the pollen, so it may be best to skip the edible flowers.

For best flavor, use flowers at their peak. Flowers that are faded or wilted will taste bitter. Perk up your summer salads and hot dishes with some edible flowers.

Summer Beauty

Thursday, July 17th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming through the summer. Watch for pests and diseases and treat as soon as you see trouble.
    • Birdbaths will attract our feathered friends to your backyard so you can enjoy them close-up. Place them a few feet from a bushy shrub to give the birds protection.
    • Zinnias love the heat and will add a rainbow of color to your garden and the deer don’t like them.
    • Fragrant star jasmine is in full bloom right now. Plant one in a semi-shaded spot where you can enjoy its lovely perfume.
    • Prune camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.

Summer Beauty in the Shade

The big, round, pink flower clusters of the well-known hydrangea have decorated summer gardens in California for decades. These long-blooming bushes are ideal for shady areas of the garden, as they bloom for most of the summer.

From their home along the rivers of China and Japan, hydrangeas were brought to Europe by plant collectors in the 1800s and now are popular in many parts of the world.

The name Hydrangea gives us a clue to the main needs of this plant. It comes from the Greek word Hydro, meaning water, indicating its need for plenty of water in the summertime. Hydrangeas prefer moist, humus-rich soil with good drainage. So when planting, add peat moss and compost to the soil.

Hydrangeas cannot tolerate hot sun. It will burn their leaves quickly. Plant them where they receive only early morning sun. The north side of a building is usually a good location. They need regular watering and should not be allowed to dry out. Plants wilt if they get too dry but will recover soon with a thorough watering.

Pink hydrangeas can be made to turn blue by making the soil more acid. This is done by working aluminum sulfate into the soil around the plants in March. Flowers may turn blue naturally here where the soils are acidic under conifers. It you want to keep the flowers pink, apply lime around the plants in the springtime.

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves in the winter. They can be pruned when dormant by removing spent flowers down to a healthy pair of buds. This should be done in spring when they first start to show new growth.  

There are many kinds of hydrangeas besides the common one. The lace-cap hydrangea has flower heads that are made up of a cluster of small flowers surrounded by a ring of large ones. They may be white, pink or blue and add a dramatic touch to the shade garden. Some have variegated leaves which add color in shady areas.

There are several new cultivars including ‘Endless Summer’, ‘All Summer Beauty’, and ‘Glowing Embers’. They add some variety to the sizes and colors of standard hydrangeas.

Few vines have as much to offer as the Climbing Hydrangea. They provide interest year ’round: cinnamon-colored, bark and dried blooms in winter; fragrant, ivory colored flowers like those of lace-cap hydrangea in early summer; lush, shiny green foliage through the growing season that turn golden yellow in the fall. This vine is the clinging type, so a trellis is not necessary.

Hydrangeas grow quite large on the coast, but usually stay under five feet here. They give us some of our best summer color. Good companion plants include hostas, astilbe, columbines and bleeding hearts. Planted with pink, lavender or white impatiens around their base, they will bring life and color to your yard all summer.