A GROWING CONCERN: Tips and tricks to keep the blooms coming

SINCE I AM continually tending all flowers I have planted, as well as employing homeowners to help in the garden care, let me continue this week to add to the watering, care and maintenance tips that I listed in my previous two columns.

As I sit here at the kitchen table looking out over the deck and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, the mixed hanging baskets of trailing blue lobelia and fuchsia are still dripping from an early morning watering a little over an hour ago.

Perfect!

Tip No. 1 — Baskets, pots, containers and window boxes should slowly drip for over an hour if watered correctly (a bare minimum of 30 minutes). That will mean it is watered to the saturation point, which is what you really desire. When these flower containers dry even slightly, as in one very sunny day, the first phenomenon to occur is soil shrinkage, which manifests itself by creating a gap between the containers inside wall and the soil, growing ever larger and wider as it continues to dry even more. Remember, it can take a blast of two to four separate 15-second waterings to saturate a pot because the first water runs quickly over the top down along the sides and out the bottom.

Tip No. 2 — A reliable visual clue: If watered rapidly, within a few seconds of being added on the top, pours out the bottom, then you have a dry container — a very dry container. The first soaking travels down and that’s when the second watering starts to expand the dry soil, closing the gap, but the third closes the gap and the fourth 15-second sprinkling saturates the pot. Maybe do one more for good measure. A well saturated pot drips slowly for 30 to 80 minutes.

Tip No. 3 — This one works in conjunction with No. 2. Feel the weight. I know precisely how dry, bone dry, arid, moist, wet or waterlogged all my containers are by lifting up on the bottom of the basket, tilting or pushing the pot or trying to raise one end of the window box. It is a mental computer game going on in your head. Imagine the weight of said container fully saturated, then figure out what you think it would weigh totally dry. Next, hold it in a manner to gauge its current weight, figure out the percentage it is off from totally wet weight, and there is the answer to how dry it is. Especially if I have dry baskets, a few hours after watering them, I go back and check their hopefully waterlogged weight to make sure they got thoroughly soaked.

Tip No. 4 — Many, many flowering plants, especially fuchsias, if they get very dry, will abort current buds and temporarily shut down new bud production. So it is very wise to never let your containers and flower beds get to a wilting dryness, otherwise, you could lose weeks of beautiful flowers.

Tip No. 5 — Strip old, big leaves away or off the soil. Of the two or three buckets I take off of my clients flower beds, at least one bucket is big leaves. Big, old leaves take more energy than they produce, block sunlight, greatly impede air circulation, attract disease and insects as they yellow and die, and harden off the plant. By removing them, you keep the plant growing vigorously and dramatically improve the growing conditions. Also, plants tend to crowd out one another, so stripping away big, old leaves creates new space, making this a very worthwhile trick.

Tip No. 6 — In this same vein of crowded area, a great trick is to prune away plant pieces, stems and branches that are heading in the wrong direction. I prune off petunia branches heading backwards into the bed, dusty miller stems working away to the middle of the basket, chuck out the geraniums or creeping Jenny that too vigorously creep out over everything. Do not hesitate to cut off misdirected plant parts and, even though they have blooms on them, cut them off anyway. They will always have blooms. Many new and old gardeners alike hate to cut away flowers, but remember, you have to spend flowers to make flowers. So prune, baby, prune!

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Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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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