Don’t throw in the trowel, some suffering plants can be saved

Marianne Binetti will be speaking at the Auburn’s Farmers Market at noon Sunday, July 14. No charge.

The second week of July is when you have to decide if the plants you think suffered over the winter or spring are worth keeping in your garden. Perennials like Hot Lips Salvia, hardy fuchsia and hardy hibiscus are just slow to grow in the spring; but, by now, if you don’t see lots of new foliage you may need to throw in the trowel and use the shovel solution on any plant, tree or shrub that disappoints you. Life is too short to put up with ugly plants. If a shrub or perennial is not doing well after a few years in the ground you can always try moving it to a different location. If that fails, give up.

There are some disappointing plants that can be saved, though. Here are some easy fixes for common problems in the summer garden.

Q. Why didn’t my peony plant flower this year? I added a compost mulch in the fall and made sure it was fertilized. Instead of blooms I got lots of lush green leaves. A.F., Auburn

A. The most common reason for bloomless peonies is that the roots are planted too deep. The clue to the cause of your missing buds is that you added a compost mulch. Peonies do not need a heavy mulch for protection in the winter. In Alaska, they grow great peony plants. Adding a mulch can bury the roots too deep. Scrape away the mulch so the root or growth eye is just an inch or less below the surface of the soil. If you want to pamper your peonies, be sure to cut back the stem and leaves in November so overwintering foliage will not spread disease. You will be hearing “this bud’s for you” next spring.

Q. I have a hanging basket with a white draping flower called bacopa. This plant was doing great for a while but now it has leaves but no flowers. The geranium in the basket still looks OK. Also the lobelia with blue flowers is turning brown. Help! C.G., Renton

A. Water to the rescue. Bacopa and lobelia are two thirsty plants that will punish you if you let the soil dry out even one time. Geraniums, petunias and foliage plants are more forgiving. You can shear back your bloomless or brown annuals now and then water well and don’t let the soil dry out again. You must also fertilize to encourage more flowers as frequent watering will wash the fertilizer right out the soil. This time of year I recommend a liquid plant food you can add to a watering can so the plants can absorb the nutrients quickly and your pouting plants can begin another bloom cycle. This is called a “water soluble” plant food and Miracle Grow is the most popular brand name.

Q. I just discovered a large blueberry bush hidden behind some overgrown shrubs at this new house we bought. I have cleared away all the scrub brush and now the blueberry has breathing room and I see a few small berries. My question: Should I fertilize this forgotten blueberry now? What type of plant food? P.P., Seattle

A. Hold off with the big meal until next spring. Fertilizing blueberries and other shrubs in mid-summer could stimulate new growth in August; then, when winter arrives the fresh growth may not be mature enough to handle the cold. Wait until early spring when you see daffodils in bloom to feed blueberries, rhodies and azaleas with a fertilizer made for acid-loving plants.

• • •

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, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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