July 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

  Placing potted plants in tubs or baby pools is a trick for caring for them during short vacation trips.
Prune Tomatoes for Better Disease Control

The leaves of caged tomatoes can get a bit crowded as the plants grow through summer. This leads to more problems with leaf diseases. The leaves near the ground or to the interior of the cage are usually the first to turn yellow or blight. Often the ground is the source of disease spores, so it is a good idea to remove leaves near the ground where they don’t touch or catch soil splashed up in a rain. The best time to do this is early in the season as plants begin to grow, but it is not too late. Also prune leaves out from center of the cage to open up the plant and help air circulation; this helps leaves to dry out quickly after rain or dew. A little copper spray or Neem late in the afternoon will help keep down many foliage diseases and lengthen the harvest of any indeterminate varieties. It’s easy to let tomatoes go once you’ve gotten a number of harvests, but if you give them just a little attention now, many plants will continue bearing through fall.

A Vacation Assist for Plants

Potted plants will still need water while you are on vacation this summer. One trick for short trips is to set the pots in a reservoir of water, like a big plastic or galvanized tub or even a baby pool, which can hold several plants. Of course, water everything well before you leave and then set the pots in the filled reservoir. If you are gone for more than a week, have someone water the plants and fill the reservoir at the end of the week. If it rains, you might be lucky enough to have the reservoir refill on its own.

Sow Seeds of Annuals

You can get a fresh crop of great flowers for late summer and fall from seed planted now. It’s inexpensive and easy to start cosmos, zinnias, cleome, tithonia, signet marigold, branching sunflowers and mammoth sunflowers. All of these make pretty bouquets, too. Seeding in mid-summer is fast as seeds sprout and grow quickly. The trick is keeping the seedbed watered until the young plants put down good roots. The seed heads of giant sunflowers sown in mid to late-summer will be much appreciated by birds in fall.

This double mandevilla loves heat and humidity, but to keep it blooming well, add sun and fertilizer.  
Mandevilla Needs Mid-Summer Elixir

The pretty pink mandevilla vine is a tropical that loves heat and humidity and will grow like crazy in mid-summer. To keep it blooming well, give it at least one-half day of sun and a little liquid fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks. Use a formula a little higher in phosphorous like an African violet food (8-14-9).

Give Roses a Nip

Snip old rose blooms from plants and give the plants a little fertilizer to encourage new growth and more blooms later in the season. Sprinkle some slow-release rose food at their base. If your roses are only spring-blooming and they need pruning, do it now, before they set buds for next year.

Trim Waves if Needed

Those pretty Wave petunias you bought this spring maybe at high-tide right now as their long, long branches reach farther than you intended. If so, simply snip them back to the desired length and feed with liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20. Rejuvenate those in hanging baskets looking a little flat-topped by pruning a few of the long stems all the way back to the near the basket rim. Wave petunias are more heat tolerant than many other types, but even they will react favorably when nights begin to cool down in late-August with fresh blooms on lots of new growth after pruning.

  Silver plectranthus is a great way to fill in empty spots in your flower beds.
Beds Need a Boost?

If you are looking for a quick way to fill in empty spots in a bed with something that matches everything, try silver plectranthus (Plectranthus argentatus). This large, fast growing, silvery annual with thick fleshy leaves is tolerant to drought yet is one of the few silver plants that doesn’t melt out in humid weather. It likes some shade, too, making it a great plant to brighten spots under trees. You may have to hunt around for it a bit, but because it is tropical and so well-suited to summer growing, some of your better garden centers catering to the year-round gardener are likely to have them. If you’re lucky, you may even find it in a 1-gallon size or larger. Silver is a great neutral that will mix with just about any colors you have in the garden. Try a few branches of plectranthus in a vase, too.

Fall Tomatoes

Sow seeds of tomatoes now for a fall crop. You can plant directly into the garden if you keep the soil moist. Remember to choose varieties with early-maturity so they will begin producing quickly as summer wanes. I know one gardener who simply sows seed in the same cages already have bearing tomatoes. As the younger plants come up, the older ones are cut down and removed to make room for the new. The one catch to this is you need to be on a good spray program to prevent blight on older plants from hurting the young fall crop.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.