A GROWING CONCERN: Pinch, stake and edge through summer

IT IS SUMMER here, in full swing with beautiful hot days. Your yard is blooming, the veggies are coming on, fruit is beginning to swell on the tree, and I gave you last week off.

All of these group together for one big job list, so you know the routine, as we begin with the ensuing tasks for the performance and quality of your plants.

Deadhead. If there is but one job that will improve your flowers and count and lengthen the time your plants stay alive — deadheading is it. Before flowers turn brown and full of disease, cut them off.

This way all energy goes to new flower production rather than to seed production. In the case of many flowers (marigold and zinnias are prime examples), not removing their old blooms actually causes the plant to brown out and slowly die. This job is ongoing, but in most cases should be done heavily at least every two weeks. Cutting blooms off a few days before they die is ideal, along with giving you ample flowers for indoor displays.

Pinching. Deadheading with a set of leaves. Pinching is a great way to not only remove blooms but encourage more branches. Most people let their plants grow out of hand. A continual system of snipping here and there keeps plants compact and prolific.

My normal habit is to pinch 10 to 30 percent of a particular group of plants (say geraniums) as I move along deadheading this group. This is done because pinching delays bloom 10 to 20 days.

Strip those leaves

Leaf stripping. Here is a vital chore that is overlooked or not understood. The largest lower leaves tend to take more energy than they give. They also, by their location, hinder air movement and cause dark shade around the plant.

If that isn’t enough, these lower leaves also harbor disease and bug invasions, including slugs. Every two weeks strip the lower and largest 10 to 20 percent of leaves around the bottom of your plants.

This combination of improved light, air movement and pest reduction makes this the second most beneficial chore you can perform.

Cultivate. Now that we have taken care of the topside of your plants, let’s move to the subterranean. Except for sunlight, all the good things for a plant come to it through the soil. Thus the soil surface must be kept receptive to the benefits. Cultivation’s No. 1 benefit is the breaking up of the soil crust.

This naturally occurring crust repels water, hardens the surface to feeder roots and blocks all important air movement in the soil. A light cultivation, especially in the vegetable garden, makes this the third best thing that you can do for your plants (containers and baskets included). Do this chore at least twice a month.

Foliar feed. Leaves are greener, plants produce more blooms, bugs are resisted, plants are larger, diseases are greatly restrained, production is enhanced and color is far more vibrant. Get the picture? Fertilize through the hose two to four times a month.

Granular feeds. See the above. That’s all for the foliage, so now give the roots a shot in the arm. Depending on when you applied granular feeds, broadcast a new application every two months (unless you used a time release, then reapply on Aug. 1). So remember, an April feed would be redone in June and then in August for all those advantages listed above.

Keep weeds out of beds

Edge. A simple yet overlooked job. Your summer lawn and weeds are moving quickly toward your flower beds. And every month edging keeps grass at bay and gives your home or business a professionally manicured look.

Prune. Another ongoing summer job is the shape prune. With all that fertilizer, deadheading and well turned soil, your plants are growing wild. Anytime of the year is OK for a branch to be cut away here and a stem removed there, but no time of year is better than summer. This job should be done all season long whenever a plant is overgrown.

Stake. Just all too often I see (mine too) beautiful plants destroyed by wind or rain. Be it delphinium or lupine, dahlias or snapdragons, find those tall plants or flower spikes and as they reach for the sky, stake and tie.

This is a weekly seek-and-find-type of job, and as a super bonus round, plant ties are available in Velcro strips that are far better for your plants and oh, the simplicity in staking!

Cut back. Here is the trick that is the reason Butchart’s delphiniums are far better in September than in May or June. When your spring and early or mid-summer perennials are done blooming, cut back these plants to dang near ground level. Stripping away the largest 80 percent of leaves and cutting back all stems, this process coupled with spectacular weather creates a superb fall bloom.

Regardless of a rebloom, a cutback of perennials after bloom also gives more room to remaining plants while greatly reducing bugs and disease.

Replant/reseed. For the veggie garden, keep on sowing or planting. Crop rotations and between-row sowings of lettuce, radishes, beans or various greens are ongoing tasks.

In the flower garden, as summer progresses and certain annuals go down, plant new, late summer or fall plants. A dahlia here, gladiola there and ornamental kale and cabbage everywhere else keeps the entire garden vibrant and ongoing.

Mulching is the trick

Think about your trees, bushes, landscape, berries or perennials. Mulching is the way to go. Around trees remove the energy- and water-sucking parasite grasses and mulch heavily (water first and fertilize before mulching it over).

Around all of your prized roses, perennials or berry crops, drop a heavy two to four inches of decomposed mulch. Around your house, water heavily, water some more, and then mulch six to eight inches for a weed-free summer. Mulching is an ongoing, year-round job.

Water deeply, water right. Too little water turns roots to the surface where conditions are harsh. The surface is far drier than four to six inches below.

Water at least half an inch or several passings with your water breaker, then let dry out slightly, pushing roots down to cool moisture. Water in the morning when the plant needs it, water is not being so rapidly evaporated by the sun, and when bugs are going into hiding.

Now clip this article out, post it by the back door, prepare your cold drinks in a cooler with ice, and get out in the yard for a beautiful (sun screen and hat on) day, of warm summer sunshine pleasure in the yard.


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] (subject line: Andrew May).

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