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Maintaining the Magic: Tips for Great Gardens All Summer Long
by Lesley Reynolds
August 6, 2000

The hustle and bustle of plant shopping and preparing and planting the garden has faded into a pleasant memory, and gardeners are now enjoying the results of their spring labours. Prairie gardens are now lush and green and many plants are looking their best. Summer-blooming perennials have taken centre stage in a blaze of blue delphiniums, red roses, and a rainbow of lilies. It is truly a magical time of year in the garden. If only it would look this good all summer!

Keeping your garden in top shape does not have to be a laborious chore, but it does require a little time each day. A daily stroll around your garden is a routine that not only brings great pleasure, but also results in a more beautiful, productive, and well-maintained garden. Develop the habit of inspecting your garden on a regular basis and taking care of small tasks before they become major chores. After all, it’s easier to spend a few minutes each day pulling weeds while you enjoy the garden's sights, sounds and scents than it is to spend several hours at a time wrestling with those unwelcome, tenacious invaders.

Assemble a kit to carry with you on your garden beat — it will save you many trips back and forth to the garage or shed. Use a good-sized wicker basket with handles or a purchased tool holder. Your kit should include:

  • secateurs for pruning or deadheading;
  • a dandelion digger;
  • a small hand cultivator for uprooting weed seedlings;
  • a roll of twine for tying up floppy plants
  • a pair of gardening gloves;
  • a small plastic pail for compostable leaves, stems, and dead flowers;
  • and, a plastic bag for disposing of diseased or insect-infested plant material.
This is the time of year that many perennials require staking. Some perennials are floppy and messy if not properly supported; others will actually suffer damage from strong winds or thunderstorms. Pay attention to the general health of plants in the garden, and look closely at those that are not doing well. Are there signs of pests, such as holes in leaves, chewed edges or curled or sticky leaves? If so, wash off the plant with a strong spray of water or pick off visible pests immediately. Abnormal leaf colour or distinctively patterned spots on leaves may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency that can be remedied by fertilizing.

Many experienced prairie gardeners find that healthy perennials require no additional fertilizer apart from the compost they add every year. However, most annuals and heavy feeders such as tomatoes, particularly those grown in densely planted beds or containers, will perform much better if given a weak dose of fertilizer with every watering (15-30-15 is a good choice). Use the fertilizer at one-quarter strength to avoid over-fertilizing plants.

Make sure plants are receiving enough water. Small containers and hanging baskets dry out quickly during hot spells and many plants will not perform well or last the summer if they are allowed to dry out too often. Mulching around plants in flower beds or containers with shredded leaves or bark will help prevent rapid evaporation from heat and wind. These mulches also add valuable organic material to perennial beds and suppress weed growth.

To encourage a longer blooming period, remove spent blooms from annuals and perennials. This task is known as deadheading. When fading blossoms are removed before seeds are formed, plant energy is directed towards plant growth and increased flower production. No seeds also means no seedlings, which can be a bonus for those gardeners who hate weeding out unwanted volunteers. Of course, some people like the riotous, densely planted cottage garden look that results when perennials are allowed to self-seed, and these gardeners may wish to leave a few seed heads.

Finally, before you go on holidays the following steps will help you prepare your garden for your absence:

  • Do a thorough pest and disease patrol before you leave. Remove all harmful insects or diseased plant material and wash down plants. Dig up small weeds so they do not have a chance to go to seed or grow large to compete with desirable plants.
  • Move hanging baskets out of hot or windy locations.
  • Group containers of annuals in partly shaded, sheltered locations.
  • Fertilize annuals, tomatoes, and vegetables that may require extra nutrition.
  • If you have an automatic watering system, check that it is programmed for plants to receive an adequate supply of water.
  • Ask a gardening friend or neighbour to cut your lawn and water your plants regularly.
  • Cut an armful of the biggest and most beautiful flowers from the garden that are appropriate for drying and hang them in small bunches in a warm, dark place. Delphiniums, roses, larkspur, monkshood and many others will bring summer memories into your home long during our long winter. If you don't wish to dry these flowers, give a bouquet to a friend or relative who does not have a garden.

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