The end of August marks the beginning of a new garden season. The stars of the late summer garden are hardy fuchsias, hydrangeas, asters and prairie flowers like Rudbeckia daisies and ornamental grasses.
You can start cleaning up the summer garden by cutting back perennials past their prime and pulling any weeds that have sneaked into garden beds.
The rule of green thumb when it comes to late summer pruning is this: If it is yellow, let it mellow but if it is brown, cut it down. This means the yellow foliage of a lily can stay but once you see those leaves turn brown cut the stalk all the way to the ground.
Q. I loved your suggestion about using boiling water to kill the weeds that grow between the cracks of the sidewalk – thank you, it worked like a charm. Now I have some bare soil between the stepping stones and want to plant something low that will crowd out the weeds. Do have any suggestions? B.T., Edgewood
A. My favorite low-growing groundcover for a mostly sunny site is Elfin Thyme because the tiny green leaves form a weed-blocking mat. If you have an area that is shady I suggest a compact ajuga with dark leaves called ajuga “Chocolate Chip.” Both do a good job of blocking weeds. You might want to add the great smelling chocolate cosmos nearby the ajuga so you’ll have the start of your own chocolate theme garden.
Q. I have a beautiful hydrangea that is getting too large! I tried cutting it to the ground but then it didn’t bloom the following year and now it is back to being over 12 feet tall. I do take off the dead blossoms but other than that I don’t know how to keep my hydrangea small and still get flowers. K.K. Longview
A. Don’t fight Mother Nature. It sounds like you have a traditional big leaf hydrangea and in our climate this shrub is predetermined by Mother Nature to become a 12-foot shrub. It only blooms on two-year old wood so if you give it a severe pruning each year it will not flower. I suggest you move it or lose it. There are new more compact hydrangeas available that can be pruned back every year and still flower on one year old wood. These are called the Endless Summer hydrangeas. You might also try the dwarf hydrangeas such as Pia or Mini Penny. There are also some dwarf hydrangeas from Germany that are named after European cities such as Vienna, and Paris. Fall is a good time to visit nurseries and look for the new and improved hydrangea varieties.
Q. How does one know when corn is sweet and ripe? I know you should taste it but what if you buy it at the store or farmer’s market? D.M., Puyallup
A. Use your fingernail to test the sweetness of corn. Pull back the green leaves and puncture a kernel with your fingernail. The moisture inside should be white and the consistency of milk. Clear liquid means too early, and thick creamy liquid means past its prime. The best tip for great corn on the cob is to get the water boiling first, then pick the corn from the plants, strip off the leaves and silk and plop the fresh corn immediately into boiling water. As soon you pick the ears of corn from the stalk the sugars begin to turn into starch and you lose the sweet flavor – so eat fresh.