This spring and early summer have certainly been seasons for the record books. Abundant rains and cool temperatures have everyone wondering if this is the midwest or the pacific northwest. Listed below are some hints to help plants look and produce to their fullest potential.
Moisture has certainly been abundant but we shouldn't neglect applying moisture retentive mulch. Many plants haven't developed extensive root systems as they should have done by now. If this is true of your plants, they may have trouble coping with a sudden dry spell. Mulching will help to conserve moisture and will help keep down the weeds which haven't had any trouble at all growing this year.
Keep annual and perennial flowers deadheaded. Removing spent flowers keeps annuals producing continuously. Deadheading outsmarts an annual flower's natural tendency to set seed and quit blooming. After all, setting seed is the main goal of annual flowers. For perennial flowers, deadheading keeps plants looking neat and eliminates the energy wasting process of seed production. This allows the energy to return to the root system, resulting in a stronger plant. Of course, if you are a gardener who enjoys collecting and growing your own seed, you'll need to allow seed production to occur. Don't forget to cut a few of those beautiful flowers for enjoyment in the house as well.
Hanging baskets and containerized plants need regular fertilization. The roots of containerized plants are confined and unable to go in search of food. Food must be provided on a regular basis to keep plants growing and blooming well. Water soluble and slow release fertilizers work effectively in these situations. Follow label directions for frequency and amount of fertilizer to use.
If your perennials are anything like mine, abundant water and lack of sunlight have made for extensive weak, floppy growth even on sturdy plants. Tall-growing plants like delphiniums are especially vulnerable to lodging. Staking is necessary to keep flowers off the ground and to prevent stems from breaking. Decorative stakes can be purchased at local garden centers and nurseries or through mailorder sources. Small tree branches can be used as well. When tying the plant to the stake, allow for some movement of the plant and avoid using ties that can sever the plant stem.
In the vegetable garden, staking or caging tomatoes will help reduce disease levels from soil-borne pathogens like blight. With the weather conditions we have had, many disease organisms have had the perfect environment for development. Raising plants upward also keeps developing fruit free of dirt. Rabbits have been busy this year devouring peas, beets, beans, etc., etc. The most effective control is the installation of a fence around the garden. If you have a large garden, and fencing the entire area is not feasible, you may want to consider grouping the rabbits' favorites in one area and installing a fence around the smaller part. Repellents aren't as effective because they wash away with rain.
With the abundant rain and cool weather, our lawns haven't slowed in growth one bit. Remember to sharpen lawnmower blades frequently to prevent excessive injury to the grass blades. Mow frequently enough to remove only 1/3 of the leaf surface at one time.
Keep a watchful eye on trees, shrubs, and other plant materials for harmful insect infestations. Catching the problem in its early stages is the key for successful control of many insects. With disease organisms, several fungicide controls are used as protectants and need to be applied in the spring as new growth begins and repeated as long as wet weather persists. For many of the leaf spots it is too late to begin control; however, leaf spot alone seldom kills plants.
1993 will certainly be a year to remember weatherwise. As the season progresses, follow some of the above hints to keep plants looking their best.
This article originally appeared in the June 30, 1993 issue, pp. 1993 issue, pp. 105-106.