July in the flower garden
By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jul. 11, 2012
Hot, muggy summer days put most of us into slower gear. Much of the hardest work has been completed by now, or put on hold until the return of cooler weather. Gardening chores like weeding and deadheading (removal of spent flowers) can move along in a more leisurely manner. Watering takes priority, with well-prepared and mulched beds being a lot less demanding than beds with little organic matter in the soil and no water-conserving top-dressing of mulch.
Use this slower time to admire your efforts. I have to say that I am very happy with the orange celosia lining my front walkway, all the white Easter lilies in full, glorious and fragrant bloom in my White Garden, ‘Elise’ dahlia with her pale peachy-gold, single blossoms and bronzy foliage, and ‘Chocolate’ rudbeckia with huge gold- and mahogany-colored blossoms.
I try to spend at least an hour in the gardens each day. Much of this time during the work week is used to water container plantings (32 containers this year!) and more recently-planted annuals and transplanted perennials. Do spend some time grooming and deadheading your flowering plants, especially the self-seeding sorts. In my garden these include tall phlox, campanulas, stokesia, balloonflower, foxgloves, veronica, chives, astrantia, coneflowers and amsonia. It is not that I don’t appreciate an occasional offspring here and there, but there is a limit as to how many garden beds I can tend. And, one always needs to leave a little space for new and unusual plants!
Go through your garden beds and remove spent blossoms, as well as brown or diseased leaves. Many plants, like lamb’s ears and lungwort, begin to look a little ratty by now. Cut off any spent lamb’s ear blossoms. Lungwort should always be planted where it can self-seed or where you can pluck any unwanted progeny. It is a very attractive plant in the spring, although its spotted foliage loses aesthetic qualities as the season progresses. If these plants and other early bloomers have become too crowded, dig up enough plants to give the remaining ones more room. Pass the extra plants on to a friend or just cut them up and add them to the compost pile.
Daylilies are at their peak about now. Every few days I go through my row of daylilies and snap off the faded flowers, and also, I remove the older leaves as they yellow and brown. After a scape (daylily flower stalk) finishes blooming, cut it back to the crown. Most daylilies will not rebloom, but they will look neater if tidied up. ‘Stella d’Oro’ and a number of other cultivars are renowned for their ability to continuously send up flower stalks throughout the growing season. Check them out for a much longer show of color.
Almost all annuals and perennials would benefit from a summer fertilizer application, either organic or synthetic in nature. These plants have been working hard, plus the early spring deluges have washed away many of the nutrients applied earlier or adversely impacted the root systems, so these earlier available nutrients could not be taken up. A scattering of 5-10-10 or an organic equivalent, or just a watering with dilute compost tea, fish emulsion or liquid seaweed on a regular basis, can be applied to established flower plantings. Be sure to water well after any type of fertilization, so the plants can take up the nutrients. They are dissolved in the water that the plant roots take up.
Another way to perk up your plants is through foliar feeding. Any water-soluble or liquid fertilizer can be used, as long as the label does not warn against it. The easiest way to foliar feed is with a hose-end sprayer. Ideal choices of fertilizers would be a liquid seaweed or kelp, or a synthetic fertilizer which contains micro-nutrients. Dilute these fertilizers as recommended, or to a one-quarter strength, when using as a foliar spray. A hand squirt bottle could be used for smaller plantings.
Look at your plants and stake any that have grown too lush and heavy because of the early summer rains that we have experienced. Staking should have been done earlier, in most cases, but better to prop up plants now than to have them either split their stems or bury their neighbors. Two of my worst offenders are baptisia and globe thistle. They regularly need staking, but how glorious their blossoms when staked and held aloft. The pollinators appreciate this as well, especially with the globe thistle, which is always loaded with bees and butterflies.
Give your flowers a little attention during these hot July days. Many will reward you with more blooms and improved growth. If you need help with what to do with your flowering annuals and perennials this time of year, or with other gardening questions on any home or garden topic, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension office.