Cutting Back + Powdery Mildew Patrol
What are YOU doing in your garden this week?
You could read the subject line to this email and think I’m going to talk about planting less, gardening less, and god no, of course not. Instead, I want to talk about a few things I’ve been doing and dealing with in my garden — including….
1.) Cutting Back
What do you do when your plant has spent its blooms? If it’s an annual, you can pull it….or you can treat it kinda like a perennial and just give it a little haircut and see what happens. Some plants will give you a real second (or third) flush; others will just grow some pretty foliage and not look so leggy.
Plants I’ve Successfully Cut Back for a Second Flush this Summer:
Various types of penstemon
Coreoposis (was very surprised by this but they’re in full bloom AGAIN now!)
Veronica/speedwell (I have some that are on their THIRD flush!)
Plants I’ve Successfully Haircutted:
Creeping jenny (useful because they can get fried in heat)
Nasturtiums (cut basically back to base and they just keep coming)
Petunias (just added some nice bloom booster fertilizer and they went wild again)
If you’ve never cut back before, you want to cut down pretty low — I usually aim for the first or second set of leaves. I generally fertilize after to give it a little boost and am mindful to make sure it doesn’t get dried out. Then just wait (and know that it might not be as beautiful as the first time, but it’ll still be great)
The photo above was taken in early July. About a week later, the flowers were almost all spent and everything was looking pretty shaggy. I cut back to the base, and then….
(If you scroll back to the image at the very beginning of the newsletter, you can see how it looks now — blooming again, just much shorter). Plus, the petunias got so much happier.
2.) Beginning Clean-Up
We’re going to do a thread in the next few weeks all about what we do to put the garden to bed each year. I’m not ready for that yet, but I spent the weekend taking care of some experiments that had run their course. A few errant nasturtium seeds turned into a massive tangle of nasturtiums growing UP the stairs. It look really amazing until it became an aphid-blackened mess, so aphid-y it (temporarily) stained the Trex decking. I gathered it all up & chucked it in a yard waste bag (and, of course, allowed a bunch of nasturtium seeds to fall off here and there so that I could deal with this exact same scenario next year).
After reading about how to collect and save scarlet runner beans, I decided it was time to act on the plant that grew from a bean that my best friend’s kindergartener had planted in one of my beds and then taken over a Karl Foester grass. (You can see the red flowers in the grass on the right in the photo above).
I read that in places with potentially damp Falls like ours, you want to harvest these suckers before the shell starts to get mildewy. So I pulled the plant, cut off the MASSIVE beans, then brought them indoors for some shelling and drying.
The current plan is to let them dry for a week then put them in a glass jar wit one of those anti-moisture packets (I bought them in bulk). If you have other suggestions for this first-timer, please share in the comments!
3.) Powdery Mildew Patrol
Just as I’ve gotten my spider mite problem under control on the dahlias…..the threat of powdery mildew comes in. It’s already all over the bottom of my sweet peas (which are in a very different area of the garden) but I’ve just resigned myself to letting that happen while I wait for the sweet pea seas to dry and cure. The dahlias, though….this is the month you live for when you grow dahlias. The shorter days make plant really turn on the bloom machine and it’s magical to behold….so long as you don’t have powdery mildew.
I found a few leaves with a hint of it, removed them, disposed of them, and then sprayed the whole plant (and all the surrounding ones, and then all the other dahlias just for good measure) with Neem Oil. (Last week I finally got my act together and bought a big pump and some Neem concentrate, so now I can really do the sort of blast where you get the bottom leaves, too)
Now I just go check for it twice a day and keep blasting with Neem and keep my fingers crossed. PLANTS, THEY’RE SO LOW-MAINTENANCE!!!
4.) Operation Grass Elimination
We have a small backyard that got wrecked by the installation of a new septic system earlier this year. We weren’t quite ready to do the full lawn elimination (or rather, one person in this family wasn’t quite ready to do the full lawn elimination, but that one person wasn’t me) so we made a compromise: we’d reseed sections of the lawn in the center, and I could transform a bunch of the perimeter into flower beds.
There were areas where the grass was already patchy where I just dug out the grass, added composed, and mulched — and have been hand-picking out the few pieces of grass that breakthough. But there’s around 100 square feet that I want to use for dahlias and other flowers, so I’m ~SHEET MULCHING~
You can read more about sheet mulching here, but the basic principle is using cardboard to kill off the grass. I’m following Kristine Albrecht’s advice in Dahlias: Seed to Bloom for specifically preparing the beds to grow dahlias: lay a layer of compost, then the cardboard, then another layer of compost. You don’t disturb the organisms; in fact, they eat right through the cardboard and leave you with a perfect little flower bed for the Spring. At least this is the hope. I have hauled a lot of compost and drastically reduced the amount of cardboard that’s going into the recycling but it’s nearly done. (Pro tip: make sure you take off all of the plastic tape from all the boxes, otherwise you’ll have nice flower beds with floating pieces of plastic tape).
5.) Pansy Time
Here in coastal zone 8b, pansies overwinter pretty reliably. If you have them in the ground (or even in pots) now, they’ll get ragged during the winter and then perk up and give you exquisite early spring brightness. I planted around my roses back in June after seeing a post from Floret about how she does it for weed control. They went pretty dormant when it got hot, but now they’re back and thrilled and I’m going to plant a few more in a handful of pots where the petunias have already given up the ghost.
Oh, and I planted a few pansy seeds, too! Some will probably just hang out until spring, but some are coming up now — we’ll see how they do. I got mine from Rare Seeds (so many good varietals).