Marianne Binetti

Flowers go to seed in long days of August

The second week of August has many landscapes looking a bit seedy. This means they are past their prime, finished flowering and going to seed.

In my own garden, the poppies are pooped. The Canterbury bells have rung, the foxgloves are tattered and I hate to be so judgmental about my Lady’s Mantle, but that “lady” is a tramp.

The blooms of her youth have faded to seedy brown, and she has the bad habit of hopping into everyone’s bed — uninvited. It is time to grab a wheelbarrow and get snippy with all the early summer perennials. If it’s yellowing, fading, falling or flailing, cut it to the ground. Summer is too short to put up with ugly plants past their prime and their unkempt ways add to the mess of an unmade bed.

The good news about pruning back past-their-prime perennials is that August is a forgiving month. Most blooming plants go dormant late into the summer and then show a bit more life in the fall when the weather cools and the rains return. By cutting back faded blooms and yellowing foliage you are simply speeding up what Mother Nature intended all along.

Help! We went on vacation and the neighbor that was supposed to water our containers must have forgotten - the petunia have stopped blooming and the lobelia is all dried up. Any way to get the flowers in hanging baskets to flower again after a meltdown? T.N., Enumclaw,

Where there is a bit of green, there is hope. You must be brave enough to cut back your bloomless petunias to about one half their size. Then water well and fertilize with an all purpose liquid plant food. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and feed again every two weeks. Remember that plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves as well as their root systems, so let the fertilizer water hit the leaves. Feed and water in the cool of the morning not during the heat of the day. I predict a second wave of blooms from your petunias. You can take the same heroic measure with your lobelia and other bedding plants — a good pruning, water and fertilizer, but I am not optimistic about your lobelia.

I planted a groundcover plant called “creeping Jenny” that is taking over my yard! It has grown out of the flower beds and is now creeping into my lawn. What can I do to get control of this plant? Will it die this winter or am I doomed to a hostile take over? C.P., Puyallup

Ah, yes, creeping Jenny is another little garden tramp that looks so sweet and innocent - until it starts drinking too much and begins to riot. Use this member of the assertive Lysimachia family in hanging baskets or in very dry corners where nothing else will grow – but never plant it near moist soil.

It will survive the winter to terrorize your garden again next year but it is easy to rip out by the roots while still young. Creeping Jenny comes in a blonde or golden form called “Aurea’ that does look fetching spilling over a dry bank in a shaded area or dangling demurely from a hanging basket.

I even grow this blonde bombshell with black mondo grass in an area of dry shade and for a couple of years now the two have been able to share a bed without fighting - but I police the rambunctious Jenny with a stern hand and threaten her with eviction every spring.

I have an evergreen hedge of Thuja “Emerald Green” but I have noticed that there is one section on one of the shrubs that has turned dry and brown. The rest of the shrub looks fine but this dead part is about 8 inches wide and is not getting any bigger (I measure it) but it just looks ugly. Can I cut it out? What do you think caused it? P.P., email

Always remove any dead, brown or diseased sections from trees and shrubs. You may not even need clippers as dead foliage on these shrubs can be rubbed off with a gloved hand. The good news is the spot is not growing and the rest of the hedge is healthy so I suspect physical damage from a dog, or a bit of root damage from a mole. The bald spot will fill in nicely in a few months.

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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