A bumper crop of questions

July 20, 2011 

By the middle of summer some plants need a bit of an overhaul. Keep plucking the faded blooms from your annual plants and container gardens and they’ll continue to make more flowers.

Midsummer is also when I get the most questions about problems and pests. Here’s the most common:

How can I control the weeds in my new vegetable garden? I can’t believe how fast the grass pops up between my plants. I do not want to spray any herbicides. – O.G., Sumner

First, the good news. You must have great soil. Now get down and dirty with this newspaper and start smothering the weeds under newsprint. You can also use rolls of old carpet in the main walkways of your veggie garden or cut up sections of cardboard. To keep the newspaper or cardboard in place you will need to pile on the mulch. I use composted dairy manure from a local dairy farm but you can also use bark chips or sawdust. The goal is to keep the sunlight from the weeds while letting the vegetables reach for the light. Use a sharp spade or hand pull the weeds near your plants.

How can I keep my fuchsia basket in bloom? Each year I get one from my kids for Mother’s Day and by this time of year it still looks healthy but stops blooming. – F.M., Olympia

Hanging fuchsias need to be groomed to keep them in blooms. This means removing not just the faded flower but the seed ball that sits just behind the flower as well. Once you allow these little green knobs to swell and turn dark the fuchsia plant puts all it’s flower energy into seed production instead of new blooms. You also need to fertilize fuchsia baskets and all container gardens full of annual plants. I use both a slow release and a water-soluble plant food on containers full of flowers. Too much fertilizer will burn your plants so read and follow the label directions.

Help! The lower leaves on my rose plants are turning yellow with black spots and this problem seems to be getting worse. My roses are still blooming and have new growth but the bottom half of all my roses looks ugly while the upper half looks beautiful. Is this a root problem? – K.W., Renton

No, you have black spot and the root of this problem is not the roots, but our weather. This fungus among us thrives in moist areas so keep the leaves dry by watering from below. Next remove every yellow leaf even if you expose the knobby knees of your roses. Now cover your soil with a blanket of fresh bark chips to seal in the fallen fungi spores so that they won’t get splashed back up onto your rose plants every time it rains. You can spray with a fungicide to help control black spot but the most practical approach is to grow only disease-resistant roses. In our climate most pink roses with no fragrance such as Queen Liz, The Fairy, Bonica, Carefree Wonder and the Flower Carpet roses are resistant to black spot.

My lavender is done blooming. Now what. – P., Email

Give it a haircut. Prune back your lavender plant to where the stems are so thick it is hard to cut them with a pair of scissors. For this reason I use a pair of scissors to prune lavender. A nice crewcut and your lavender will be neat and tidy and maybe bloom again.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

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