Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
August, 2004
Regional Report

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Rejuvenate lobelia that's beginning to look frazzled by trimming and fertilizing it and moving it into a slightly shadier location.

Midsummer Catch-Up

Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit, but I'm already looking forward to next year's gardening season. That's not because I'm so organized but because I've made so many mistakes this year that I can hardly wait to undo them. I meant to spread mulch in the vegetable garden before the weeds got out of control, and I meant to install some edging around the periphery, and I meant to move plants that have overgrown their bounds, and I meant to pamper every single seedling I started rather than letting some shrivel in their flats.

Fortunately, not all these tasks have to wait until next year. It's not too late to regain control over the weeds, and to spread more mulch, and to move plants around. And annuals can be rejuvenated for a late-season show.

The Quick-Trick Mulch
To keep weeds under control in the vegetable garden, my favorite remedy is a hay and newspaper combo. A few layers of wet newspaper topped with hay will smother weeds and provide a nutrient bonus at the end of the season if you till it all under. I usually take a vacation at the beginning of the summer, and the day before I leave is my deadline to spread the mulch. Without a vacation to motivate me this summer, I naturally fell behind. Since the weeds were too tall to top with newspaper, I had only one choice: I paid my daughter to pull weeds. Now the garden is mulched, my daughter is happy, and I'm feeling less guilty by the minute.

Appraise What's Working and What Isn't
Midsummer is a good time to take notice of which plants are disappearing under their neighbor's foliage and which ones would make more of an impact if they were paired with other plants. Make notes so you remember your ideas later or take pictures and write directly on the photos what action you'd like to take so you can pull them out over the winter and make a plan. When you sit down in your garden, where do your eyes go? Most likely you keep looking at plant combinations that please you, as well as at certain combinations or plants that bother you. Write them down.

Also notice which plants are flowering poorly and make a note to divide them. Daylilies, iris, and bee balm require dividing every few years to rejuvenate them. Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and yarrow (Achillea) get flat in the center when they need to be divided. This job is easiest when plants are small in early spring, but you can also wait until fall if you cut back the plants afterwards.

Moving Plants
I like to buy sale plants at the end of the season or in early spring and plunk them into one end of the vegetable garden until I decide on the best spot for them. Now that they're in bloom, I can see where those bare-root roses I planted in April will put on the best show. I'll move them soon and pamper them so they get settled before they need to begin hardening off in fall.

While the cooler weather of fall is ideal for moving perennials, you can move some in summer if you choose a cloudy day, cut them back, and keep them well watered. I'm in the process of moving some tall catmint (Nepeta) and feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) to a new spot so I can make room for some of the roses. Both are tough plants, and I won't mind sacrificing their flowers to the greater good.

Potted peonies can be planted all summer, but if you have some to dig up and move, wait until fall, which also is the best time to plant bare-root peonies. Root growth continues as long as the soil is above 40 degrees F., so herbaceous perennials can settle into new locations even late in the fall.

Take Advantage of Annuals' Boundless Energy
Many enthusiastic annuals can still be planted or cut back lightly to encourage more flowers. I recently found some beautiful, ruffly snapdragons, albeit leggy, at a garden center. I cut them back a few inches, popped them into a planter, and now they are blooming by my front door. Snaps will bloom past the first frost so there's lots of time to enjoy them. Lightly shear lobelia that's beginning to look frazzled, move it into a shadier location, and fertilize it. It will reward you with new leaves and flowers if it hasn't gone past the point of no return.

Some cosmos that I left in six packs too long are now grouped closely in a planter where their slightly stunted growth is just right. And there's a definite advantage to letting a morning glory seedling sit in its small pot too long before transplanting it: the vine is now full of flowers while the one I planted earlier is taking over the side of the house but not yet in bloom.

I may be able to invite the photographer from Gorgeous Gardens Well Tended magazine over for a visit after all!

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