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Is Your Garden Dead? Here’s How to Try Again

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By James A. Fussell

(MCT)—It’s hot. It’s dry. Your garden resembles a moonscape, and those flowers that bloomed in spring now look like they’re putting out dreadlocks.

This isn’t fair. There’s still two months of summer left. You need a garden do-over, a foliage facelift, a midsummer mulligan.

It’s not your fault.

“Normally we get through the Fourth of July without many problems,” said Dennis Patton, horticulturist with Johnson County Kansas State Research and Extension. “June can be hot, but it also will have rainfall. This year we had the heat and the dry weather.”

Triple-digit heat. There is hope.

“Many garden centers will have annuals that you can plant right now,” Patton said. “You can rip out the dead, the dying and ugly and spiff up that container or spot in the landscape.”

Those heat-tolerant annuals include cleome, marigold, zinnia, vinca, lantana, coleus and penta. All are drought-tolerant, need full sun and can be grown in a container or in the landscape.

“Penta doesn’t start blooming until it gets hot,” Patton said. “In the spring it’s just a green foliage plant and people overlook it. Penta hits its stride in July and August. It usually is in shades of pink, red and white. It’s just a little flat-topped grouping of flowers the diameter of a tennis ball, and it’s all over the plant…

“In my containers I put a lot of sun-tolerant coleus, which are looking great. I just fertilized them.”

That’s critical.

“People forget to fertilize,” said Jim Gardner, manager of Family Tree Nursery in Liberty, Mo. “I ask them, ‘Do you feed your children?’

“‘Well, yes.’

“It’s the same thing for plants. If you don’t feed them they’re not going to grow.”

He recommends fertilizing every fifth watering.

But while people under-fertilize plants, they often overwater them.

“We tell people water deeply, but don’t water every day,” Gardner said. “People think they’re hot so their plants must be hot as well. But plants shut down and quit taking up moisture. Then, when people overwater, their plants sit in the water in the heat and it’s almost like boiling the roots. What we say is plants can go thirsty many times, but they only need to drown once, and then they’re dead.”

Gardner also recommends a product called Wilt-Pruf.

“It’s like hand cream for plants,” he said. “It helps keep moisture in plants with hard leaves, such as boxwood, holly, azalea and rhododendrons.

Your toasty brown lawn?

“You have the option of continuing the watering and paying the water bill,” Patton said. “But there a lot of people who just let their turf go dormant, which means they don’t water on a regular basis. But there’s a fine line between dormant and dead.”

To keep your grass alive you need to water at least every two weeks, and maybe more depending on the soil and location.

With whatever you’re growing, success depends largely on weather.

If it’s going to be hotter than Hades without any rain for the next few weeks, even a do-over might be futile, Patton said.

But Debbi Adams, master gardener from Leawood, Kan., refuses to let the hot weather get her down.

“Now’s a great time to buy annuals such as mandevilla,” she said. “It comes from Mexico, so it loves the heat. Now you can find them at hardware stores for half price or even 75 percent off. And ferns are a good thing to put in a pot now, and they don’t need a lot of water and can take full sun, full shade, anything!”

©2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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