Questions, answers for summertime gardening

The second week of July is the time to renew groundcovers by shearing them back and applying a mulch. Trim azaleas that have finished blooming and score some colorful yardage by buying late-season annuals. There is still time to plant seeds of beets, bush beans, salad greens and carrots into the garden. Now that the soil is warm you’ll notice all seeds sprout sooner and heat-loving plants like geraniums, coleus, marigolds and zinnias will happily transplant into the soil.

Q. How does one prune raspberries? We have both regular raspberries and what we are told are everbearing raspberries. These are growing at a home we recently purchased. Thank you, M.B., Puyallup

A. Once you harvest your first crop of raspberries in June you cut back the oldest canes or branches that just finished giving you fruit. You will recognize the old canes because they will be turning yellow and dry. On regular June-bearing raspberries you snip these canes all the way to ground level to encourage the fresh new shoots. On everbearing raspberries you can harvest fruit through September if you remove just half of the cane that bore fruit. The bottom half will then send out more blooms and berries for a summerlong harvest.

Q. My husband accidentally used a high nitrogen houseplant food on our tomatoes. Is it safe to eat any tomatoes that appear? I do see a few flowers but not many tomatoes. P., email

A. No worries. Using the “wrong” fertilizer will not make fruits and veggies unsafe to eat. Plant food is not a pesticide or herbicide that will harm you. Plants cannot read the fertilizer labels and just take the nutrients they need from whatever source it comes in. Your tomatoes may be taller with more leaves than blooms from all that nitrogen but the plants will still bear healthy fruit.

Q. How does one prune azaleas? I have some mature shrubs that are rather thin and leggy. I notice fewer blooms as the years go by as well. W.D., Auburn

A. Pruning after blooming is the rule of green thumb for azaleas and most varieties will become more dense and shrubby if you shear off two to three inches of the newest growth early in the summer. This can even be done with electric hedge shears to create rounded shapes called cloud pruning. In Japanese gardens this is how solid pillows of blooms are created. For a more natural look use the grab-and-snip method. Grab the longest branches and reach into the shrub to snip them off so the cut is hidden inside the shrub. Your goal is to remove all the “poodle dog tails” that have bare stems with a bit of green leaves at the tip. Pruning alone will not make for healthy azaleas. Pamper your plants with a compost and bark chip mulch this summer but don’t allow mulch to touch the stem of your azalea shrubs. Just an inch or two of mulch over the roots of azaleas and rhododendrons will help cool the soil and seal in moisture. Extra water in August and September is the answer to maximum blooms in the spring, rather than extra fertilizer. Azaleas and rhododendrons are not heavy feeders and too much plant food causes growth spurts of branches with soft, succulent new leaves. Soft new plant growth is more susceptible to insects, disease and cold weather.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column

owned by Marianne Binetti.

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