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Dog Days of Summer, But Not for Plants
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

July 3, 2011

Gentle Reader, doubtless you have read or heard countless bits of advice about watering. I’ll try to condense it down to one short paragraph. First water coming in must be greater than or equal to water going out, as long as the plant is still growing..

Second, make sure the soil is dry before you add water; a plant can just as easily drown or rot out in August as in April. Third, conservation of moisture and coolness of soil will go a long way to reducing watering needs and improving the "happiness" of the plant’s roots. In the ground, that can mean mulch: in a container that equates to using a fibre pot or porous terra cotta pot, not a plastic bake ovens. (Those colourful hanging baskets-white is a colour- wherein your petunias were originally planted.) Fourth, be diligent. A day or two of neglect can tip the scale from flowering to seed production. That’s it on water.

For most of us these are the dog days of summer. I wasn’t really sure what that meant until Sox joined the household. On those hot, humid, beastly days, he lurches up, hobbles over to a new cool spot and flops back down. He’s only a young pup but sounds like an old dog when he flumps himself down. We tend to kick back, relax and let the day crawl by with as little intervention from us as possible. Our annuals don’t take the same perspective; they’ve got a lot to do and a short time to do it. They want to flower as fast as they can- which makes them very popular- and then make seeds. The seedy part isn’t always our cup of tea so we tend to deadhead in the hopes of extending bloom time. All goes well until the dogs arrive and we lose our impetus. Flowering is done, the colour is gone, alas and alack. You could shear back the plant, bring on some new growth and in a while- before frost?- you might get some show again.

Their life is too short, GR. Unless you’re a seed saver, yank ‘em out and put down some colour.

Here’s my suggestion: go to a nursery or garden centre and pick up some perennials that are in bloom or have good texture. Lavender is a good example of the latter. The caveat here is that I’m suggesting you use perennials as replacements. They might not be well suited for long term placement in an annual spot (and we wonder why ESL folks have a tough time with English) but they’ll certainly fill the bill for the rest of the year. In the fall, during perennial division and replacement chores, you can re-set your new plants into their permanent homes.

There is an new leucanthemum (think Shasta daisy) called Broadway Lights. It is in the Proven Winners catalog so you can find it at many outlets. At 18-24" tall, this chappy has many petals opening to a buttery yellow changing to a pure white. Different timings for each bloom makes each plant in itself a multi-hued bouquet. If you put this in a container using the old spiller, filler, thriller plan, guess which one this is.

However, the group that has caught my eye this past week is the cone flowers. At the moment, many are in full bloom and will be until late fall. The selection of designer colours are fantastic. I do like the old mainstay of Magnus but really feel its time to expand the palette. Again Proven Winners leads the way with the Big Sky series. The morning brings Sun Rise (medium sized cone- disc florets- encompassed by pendulous lemon rays) travelling across the Summer Sky (double disc florets of pink and orange) until Sundown (not a lot of petals on this lassie but the bright red rays have an undertone of orange.) Fragrant Harvest Moon (a yellow orange cone glowing with soft golden rays) takes us to After Midnight (gigantic disc surrounded by vivid magenta rays.) There are many coneflowers out there that fanciers might search out: Vintage Wine, Hot Lava, Bonfire, Flame Thrower, Hot Papaya (Dan’s Comment- I’ve seen it in the redoubtable Mrs. Rhode’s garden in Brighton and it is a show stopper.)Mac n Cheese, Tomato Soup, the white Fragrant Angel, the height challenged Paranoia and the incredible Green Envy with pink and lime-green rays.

Please check for Plant Protection numbers on the tags. Many of these introductions are patented and it is illegal to propagate them. Early harvesting is happening. Please support your local growers and remember the food banks.

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