Fertilize perennials and potted plants, but not the lawn | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

Editor’s note: Beginning this week, the Renton Reporter will begin running Marianne Binetti’s gardening column in the paper and on our website. We are excited to offer you this new feature. Please let us know what you think. - Brian Beckley

The first week of July is when your potted plants, perennials and vegetable will need a good meal. The beginning of July is a good time to fertilize corn, roses, delphiniums, tomatoes and other plants that you expect to bloom or produce until the end of summer.

July is not a good time to fertilize the lawn, rhododendrons and azaleas or other spring-blooming shrubs. Your lawn may be slipping into dormancy and will require less water if you resist the urge to green it up by fertilizing this month. Spring-blooming shrubs are done with their regular flowering and growth cycle and do not require extra fertilizer during the summer.

Q. I have grown rhubarb for many years but this year the stalks were thin and the leaves much smaller than previous years.  Is there some way to improve the performance of my rhubarb? P.P., Puyallup

A. Sounds like you need to divide up your mature rhubarb plants so they’ll turn over a new leaf. Mulch the soil around the plants with composted manure now so the roots will be shaded from the summer sun. Then in the spring dig into the thick rhubarb crown and cut off side shoots with root sections about the size of your fist. Replant these in an area that has been enriched with manure and compost and toss out the old center of the plants. These young upstarts will gather strength the first summer after the division but then they will be tarting up your pies and sauces by the following year.

Q. How can I get rid of weeds in the cracks of my sidewalk? I do not want to use chemicals of any kind but cannot seem to pull these persistent grass-like weed from the cracks. J., Email

A. Boil up a piping hot kettle of water and pour this directly into the sidewalk cracks. You may even be able to smell the weeds cooking as the water destroys the roots. Be careful not to let the hot water flow into nearby flower beds where it can damage any living plant – or insect. Boiling water is also used to destroy ant hills.

Q. When can I cut back the foliage of my peonies? The peonies are done blooming. Also, when should I cut off the old flowers of my peonies? One more question. When can I transplant a peony plant? R.T., Tacoma

A. First, wait until fall to cut back your peony foliage. You will know when it is time to get snippy because the leaves will turn yellow. In our wet-winter climate cutting back peony foliage in the fall will help to prevent a black blight on the leaves. Second, you can remove the faded flowers and the stems of your peonies as soon as they are done blooming. Better yet, harvest the peony flowers in the bud stage and enjoy watching them bloom indoors where they are safe from petal-punishing rain storms. Lastly, peonies do not like to be transplanted but if you must, than do the dirty deed in the fall and make sure you do not plant them too deep. Set the pink eye or growth bud just below the surface of the soil.

Marianne Binetti is the host of “Dig In Seattle,” a garden and cooking show that is back on the air. You can watch the show via pod cast at or at 12:30 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 22 KZJO TV.

The show focuses on local gardening tips and cooking demos from local chefs. This week you can learn how to forage in the wild for Douglas fir tips to make a refreshing and unusual summer sorbet and get tips on landscaping with native plants.

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