Time for a Tune-up?

September 1, 2018

​​As this holiday weekend closes out the summer, it is a great time to begin planning for next year. Take a critical look around the landscape, making notes and photos of things that are working as well as opportunities for improvement.


In areas where annuals, whether flowers or vegetables, are fading, check the soil pH. If it needs adjustment, fall is the ideal time to apply lime or sulfur so that they can correct the problem over the winter. This is also the time to add organic material. Shred fallen leaves with the mower and turn them into the garden. By spring, they will be compost.


 One situation that changes very gradually is the hours of sunlight areas receive. Trees grow very slowly, but over the passing years shade may have taken over. Sun-loving shrubs and perennials may need to be replaced with more shade-tolerant selections. The good news is that garden centers have now reduced prices in order to move this year’s inventory of shrubs, trees and perennials.


Around my neighborhood, a surprising number of trees have died or blown over in storms. This has opened up some sunny spots in the border. I have carefully monitored how various plants are enjoying this. Some seem very happy about the turn of events while others wilt in the afternoon heat. It is time for me to move them to cooler spots.


​Photos: Looking around the neighborhood, there are many opportunities for landscape improvements. At top, the death of several small trees left a sunny spot. The crape myrtle at left has become top heavy. Plan to prune it back next March! The ornamental grass (above) got a major haircut--right back to the dead center. Ornamental grasses need to be divided every few years. The weeds got pulled out of the mature azalea below, but the deadwood remains. It has a large dead spot in the middle, and may fail the ornamental test. Sometimes I feel like putting up a banner: "O" is for ornamental!"


​​Thinking of perennials, this is a good time to divide spring and early summer bloomers. Daylilies and iris are very forgiving, but if you noticed decreased flowering, it is time to dig them up, divide the rhizomes and replant, spacing them a foot apart. You will have plenty of extras which you can pass along to others or use in sunny areas. Complete this task so that the divisions have six weeks before frost to become established.


Some problems glow like beacons on a moonless night. Bare spots cry out for the gardener to fill them with something. Famous garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll kept containers at the ready to fill in holes as they developed over the summer. If the hole is a dead shrub, take a close look at its companions. Are they at the end of their useful life as ornamentals? If so, maybe this is an opportunity to refresh the landscape with a new look. Was the death caused by disease or a pest? If so, treat the problem before replacing the plant.


Delay pruning trees and woody shrubs until late winter. Pruning promotes growth. The tender new sprouts may be killed by Jack Frost. This could damage the mature plant as well.


Do refresh mulched areas. Mulch provides some insulation, protecting roots from cycles of frost and thaw that might heave plants out of the ground.


​​I am going to fine-tune my landscape this month by adding some bright contrasting flowers to my border. Many spring and summer perennials may be planted now so they can become established before frost and bloom beautifully next year.


Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her house, or from  eying it critically later on, questioning whether it is still passing the O test...

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