Trim hanging baskets, get a bounty of blooms

Petunias, verbenas and begonias, oh my! Time to trim these plants; the reward a bounty of new blooms

The middle of August is a good time to get snippy with your hanging baskets. Overflowing baskets of petunias, verbenas and begonias can be cut back by one-third to remove the spent flowers and encourage branching and fresh growth. Fertilize with a liquid plant food immediately after this haircut and you’ll wake those petunias from their summer doldrums to produce a bounty of fresh new blooms.

Q. My daughter has a tall pink flower that blooms late in the summer under the shade of trees. The stems are almost 5 feet tall and the blooms look like dogwood flowers. She has no idea what this plant is but it dies back in the winter and then pops up in the summer and blooms in August and September. Any idea what it may be? R.K., Kent

A. It sounds like the almost awesome Japanese Anemone or Windflower (Anemone japonica). This shade tolerant perennial is “almost” perfect because it demands so little and gives back so much in the form of graceful, late-summer blooms when other plants are looking summer weary. However, the garden gossip on Japanese anemone is that it refuses to stay in its own bed. Underground roots spread under pathways, into lawns and can dominate any area with decent soil. The best place to grow Japanese anemone is where it can be contained with a strong border or in rather poor soil where nothing else will grow. The tall, pale blooms look lovely in front of an evergreen hedge or growing under the shade of large trees. You can find Japanese anemones in a white, pink or lavender forms, some with double flowers. If your daughter wants to share her plants with you, wait until fall to divide the side shoots from mature plants or wait until early spring when you can dig into the area and take root clumps while the anemones are still dormant from winter weather. This plant is difficult to share in August while it is in flower.

Q. My neighbor has told me that it is illegal to grow butterfly bush as it is an invasive plant. I see that local nurseries still sell butterfly bush so I don’t believe it is illegal for me to have one in my yard. Am I correct? C.C., Spanaway

A. No jail time for you. It is not yet a criminal offense to grow Buddleja davidii or butterfly bush in your garden. This shrub has been declared a Class B noxious weed, however, because it is taking over some of the native plants in wild areas, especially along river banks. For this reason you must dead head or remove all the flowers on your shrub before they mature and go to seed. Many gardeners just remove the entire shrub to keep it from spreading into wild areas. The good news is thanks to plant breeders in Oregon there are sterile buddlejas available that will not reseed. These well-behaved varieties have the same long, pointed bloom clusters that attract butterflies but the flowers do not make viable seeds. Look for the varieties Asian Moon, Blue Chip and Purple Haze, all dwarf forms that are better behaved than the 6-foot-tall invasive forms of the butterfly bush.

Q. The fruit of my tomato plants have dark spots on the bottom of some of the tomatoes. The dark spot tends to spread out as the tomato starts to turn red. The leaves look fine. What do you think is wrong? J.B., Enumclaw

A. The darkness that descends on the end of tomatoes is called Blossom End Rot disease and is caused by either inconsistent watering or a lack of calcium in the soil. Tomato plants should be watered evenly and only when they need it – dig into the soil with a bare finger and water when the top inch of soil is dry. In our climate with naturally acid soil a lack of calcium can also cause blossom end rot. Next year, add limestone to your soil or use an all-purpose plant food that lists calcium as one of the ingredients. Some gardeners add egg shells to the planting hole in the spring when they plant tomatoes. Egg shells are rich in calcium but it takes some time for the shells to break down and release the calcium. Consistent feeding and watering is the best way to prevent this problem in the future.

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For more gardening information, Marianne Binetti can be reached at her website, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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