Home & Garden

Give your plants the elixir of life

The end of July is time to celebrate your mid summer bounty. Daylilies, roses and all the bedding plants or annuals should be showing off with buds and blooms, and now is the season of harvest in the vegetable garden.

There still is time to improve your yield by using an all-purpose fertilizer, a compost mulch or organic feeding of bone meal and alfalfa pellets on plants this week.

If you use a water-soluble liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro or a liquid fish fertilizer, remember that plants can absorb nutrients through their foliage – so get the leaves wet.

In the vegetable garden, you can spread fertilizer down the sides of row plantings where it will be available to the fine feeding roots about 6 to 8 inches away from the plants.

But more important than any plant food right now is that liquid elixir of life itself: water. Plants stop growing, drop buds and then wilt in defeat if you don’t keep them hydrated.

The end of July is a good time to start hand-watering the most thirsty plants in the landscape such as rhodies, azaleas, annuals and perennials.


We planted a bed of daylilies this spring as we read (I think it was in your book) that daylilies are easy-to-grow plants that will come back every year. Well, all we got was one stem of blooms – that didn’t last very long. The plants get lots of sun, and we did fertilize them. I want daylilies that are full of flowers like the ones I see at the park. What do they want? – L.C., Renton

Disappointing daylilies delight in your thirst for knowledge. What these fleshy-rooted plants want is lots of water and time to mature. Yes, daylilies are drought-resistant plants that thrive even in poor clay soil, but for bushels of blooms give them plenty to drink and another year to grow up.

Daylilies, wisteria, lilac and peonies are suitably horrified at the trend in teenage births and insist on becoming fully mature before they dally in the serious business of flower reproduction.

Next summer your young daylilies will double their blooms, and the third year you’ll have spectacular results. Remember the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.

We have a lovely mystery shrub in our landscape that is blooming with intense blue flowers, but this woody plant also has golden leaves. It is doing fine in a rockery that gets lots of sun. The leaves are narrow and small, and the flowers look puffy and appear to come from the joints in the stem of the plant. Do you know what it is and when we can prune it? – R.T., Tacoma

Your observant clue that the flowers bloom from the axils or joints of the leaves leads me to the conclusion that you have a blooming blue Caryopteris shrub, and the golden leaves point to the variety ‘Worcester Gold.’ (It helps that I have this same shrub blooming its head off in my own garden right now.)

Don’t be afraid to prune this drought-resistant sun-loving Caryopteris shrub back almost to the ground in April or May and then get snippy with it again after it blooms. You’ll be rewarded with an encore of flowers.

Add a blue-blooming Caryopteris shrub to your garden if you have too much sun for a blue hydrangea and not rich enough soil for a blue delphinium. For compatible bed fellows use the bright, yellow foliage of the Caryopteris ‘Worcester Gold’ with a deep purple smoke tree or burgundy leaf barberry and you’ll have a striking plant marriage that will never have a drinking problem.

Does taking the inside junk out of the trumpet of a lily make it last longer as a cut flower? – Diane, e-mail

Yes, and removing it also protects your tablecloth and clothing from pollen stains. That inside junk is the reproductive parts of the lily flower called the anther, stamen and pistols, and it is the powdery dark pollen that will drip all over as the flower ages. Removing the pollen also keeps the inside petals of your lilies clean.

I have three shrubs called ‘Magic Carpet’ spiraea that were supposed to stay nice and low – like a carpet. After just a few years they are blocking our view of a nice little tree and are more than 3 feet tall. Why did they grow so large, and when do we prune them? – J.C., Black Diamond

We live in Western Washington – home of the super-size trees and shrubs. Because of our mild winters and cool summers you can plan on most trees and shrubs growing much larger than what ever that nursery tag tells you. Think of all this bonus growth as a reward for living in the land of the lush, but invest in some good clippers or hedge trimmers.

Most spiraea should be pruned nearly to the ground in early spring, but the large white Bridal Veil spiraea prefers a haircut right after blooming and any out-of-control spiraea like yours can be disciplined with a light trim immediately after they finish flowering.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at PO Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Please send a self-adressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.