A GROWING CONCERN: Tricks of the gardening trade for late spring

MAY JUST KEEPS rolling on with Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer happening this weekend.

With barbecues being cleaned, the boat and kayaks cleaned, life jackets out and readied, and your garden in full swing, outdoor living begins here in earnest this coming month.

And because the good times are ready to roll, I wanted to let all my fellow gardeners know how I roll out in the yard, and thus share with you some of my best gardening tricks of late spring.

1. Pinch and double pinch.

I know so many people who really adore the autumn flowering perennials, but really do not like the tall, gangly, flopped-over and ugly full mums, fall asters and late blooming sedum.

Well, worry not.

There is a simple trick that not only cures all the above listed ills, but greatly improves their flower power — pinch and then double pinch.

Right now (even if they are 12 inches tall) go out and pinch back (cut down/prune) your fall mums sedums and asters to a height of 4 to 6 inches.

This pinch will do two things: No. 1, it will drastically decrease their height.

Pinching these plants reduces their length by 50 percent or more so no more tall spindly, droop-over plants.

Second, it will increase the amount of flower buds by 200 percent or more (actually much more).

And if before July 4th, you cut them back again to a height of 6 to 8 inches, you will more than double the flowers again. (Yes, really).

This double pinch turns them into a thick pin cushion of flowers on a beautifully mounted plant (a win-win).

2. Deal with your dahlias.

First and foremost, go get dahlias if you do not have any, because they will be the most amazing and acclaimed plant in your yard come September and October.

Second, pinch them, thin them and cage them up.

By pinching, again you thicken up the plant and more than double the flower power over its season.

To pinch, just take out the tip or the top inch of the dahlias’ individual plant stalks.

Next, thin the multitude of stalks coming out of the ground to five, six or seven shoots.

This keeps the plant from becoming herbaceous and forces bloom.

Do this all season long as new shoots emerge every week.

And finally, and while they are still small, get a tomato cage (they come in nifty colors) and put the cage over the dahlias or come late summer, their sheer size will collapse them into themselves.

Please, everyone get some dahlias.

3. Butcher your early perennials.

Here is my best advice to you and a trick that only works in a few places around the world.

Your perennials such as asters, daisies, lupines, delphiniums, columbine and campanula will bloom again in the fall if and only if you cut these plants down to just a few inches high right as they finish blooming. Once cut, strip away all leaves larger than a quarter.

Yes you heard me right, they will bloom again this year even better than they did now.

Please try this trick at home, then send me some photos come September.

4. De-anther your lilies.

Lilies are another gorgeous plant here on the Peninsula and with early Asiatic, mid-season Orientals and late season trumpet lilies, they will bloom here on the Olympics from late May until September/October.

But their flowers, alas, only persist for a few short days and are stained very soon after opening by the pollen inside their blooms on the stamens.

Fear not because a simple trick solves both problems.

By reaching into the flower as soon as the bloom opens and pulling out the elongated orange stamens, the flower will last twice as long and look three times better.

Got it? Last longer, looks better, so how can you not perform this trick?

There you go, four great late spring tricks that greatly improve your yard’s appearance for months to come.

So clip this out and put it on the refrigerator, keeping the tricks going until the Fourth of July.

Now everyone go out and enjoy the backyard grilling, the beach, your family and friends, and let the summer begin, because it only comes around once a year.


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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