WE’RE SOON ON the backside of the midsummer season, so now is the time to start making many decisions regarding the garden.
These decisions mostly come from your desires and the needs of your plants.
What do you want from your garden or wish to accomplish?
Ponder this question very carefully. It is the essence of what drives the chores that need to be done.
If you want a continual source of food or flower, you need to decide what areas are to be rotated. If you want to keep the plants thriving, then the end of summer is a time of constant care.
The late trimester is a week away, so as you walk around the garden the next couple of weeks, look for plants that are troubled.
Because fall is only days away, now is the time to start preparation for many fall plants and crops. Vegetable gardens are the prime spot for this concept.
As your beets, lettuce, radishes, broccoli — whatever you are growing — mature, pull them (great compost) and plant fall crops. Peas would be great now, as they take two weeks or more to germinate and emerge. That would have them growing for the cooling days of September with plenty of time to produce before first frost.
Fall frost in foothills
Those of us like me who live in the foothills should realize that frost comes earlier at higher elevations, so begin in earnest in the fall garden.
Perfect fall crops are lettuce, radishes, onions, beans and any number of greens. Remember to work these areas just like in the spring.
Add compost, fertilize and weed. Make sure you cultivate the soil very well and keep it moist.
Over in the flower beds, it is much the same. As flowers fade on perennials, cut them back and companion-plant fall plants.
I especially like to plant ornamental kale and cabbage among the lilies. Not only is the flower head of the lily cut off when it is done blooming, but as kale matures for fall, the lily stalk deteriorates.
Then in the spring, the kale is pulled and composted, making way for the lilies again.
Many annuals will soon be fading. Zinnias start to succumb to disease, various individual plants start a downward spiral, the pansies have overstretched and many plants have been damaged by a host of problems — kids and pets included.
By getting cool-tolerant plants in the ground soon, their roots will have plenty of time to develop in the warmth of summer. This growth will pay off with spectacular fall bloom.
The range of plants for fall is wide but includes sweet pea, dusty miller, kale, cabbage, fall sedums, pansies, petunias, veronica and don’t forget chrysanthemums.
Pinching and pulling
Pinching, deadheading, pulling old leaves (stripping) and working the soil are musts during this period of summer.
As you look around the garden, find those beds that look great. If you want to keep these plants in bloom, stay on top of them.
I cannot emphasize enough the advantage of removing flower heads. It is the time of year dead and dying blooms kill the plant because the plant genetically knows fall is coming.
The plant needs to produce seed and, in the case of annuals, they are geared toward one growing season.
Pinching them down now (removing at least one set of leaves along with the tip) resets them for a new bloom cycle.
Nutrients (i.e., fertilizers) are essential to plant growth. Our soils on the Olympic Peninsula are nutrient-poor. The coming of fall signals a key time of year for fertilizing.
It takes most granular fertilizers two to four weeks or more to become available to the plant and thus applied now will not release to the plants until September.
Coupled with this is the fact that all your watering since May has leached the nutrients down through the soil.
The plants now are lush and in full production. Keep the plant food coming. Many gardeners and all greenhouses know that water-soluble fertilizers sent straight through the hose have enormous benefits.
When spreading granular fertilizers, make sure you water thoroughly so as to wash all the fertilizer off the plant. With plants so lush and summer sun shining down, it is easy to burn your plants.
Many plants have specific nutrient needs in order to bloom next year. Perennials and your lawn will undergo their major root development in the fall and soon will need to be fed.
Bulbs, especially those plant longer than a year, almost require a fall feeding to produce adequately next year.
Bulb booster fertilizers in the 9-9-6 formulation are superb. Bone meal is also a great garden secret for any tuber, corn or bulb.
Apply some now to dahlias, begonias or gladiolas so the plant can absorb the benefits before you dig them up for winter storage.
So that’s it. Work, work, work.
Decide now what you’re going to keep and tend it well. Decide what is truly doing poorly, and as these plants keep appearing (and they will; it is evolution of summer to fall), pull them or cut them back and start planting the fall plants.
We are beginning the journey of year-round gardening. It starts in September.
Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).