HEARTFELT WELCOME TO SUMMER
Annuals should be performing well and perennials should be nearing their peak
It felt as though she would never arrive, but at long last, summer officially starts today, June 20 at 3:43 p.m. MDT. After shivering through a particularly nasty February, a very late and chilly spring and the world seemingly on its knees, the arrival of summer couldn’t be more welcome.
By now, annuals should be performing well. Don’t forget to deadhead (remove spent blooms) to ensure continuous flowering all season. Regular fertilizing should be maintained. Perennials (plants that come back every year) should be nearing their peak and it’s a good idea to make note of those that are working well and those that are a disappointment so as not to repeat the laggards next year.
Starting a perennial bed from scratch is almost easier than upgrading an existing bed as often times the latter is looking tired, plant material is not performing as you would like and weeds or unwelcome thugs. The likes of Creeping Campanula — the bane of gardeners — are making their presence felt.
Say, for example, you want to replace a patch of lawn with a perennial bed or border. Ideally, said site receives at least four to five hours of direct sunlight daily. Shaded areas can work, but the selection of plant material that will thrive in these conditions is more limited than that of full sun to partial shade.
If you don’t need instant gratification and can wait until next spring to start planting, the easiest and least labour-intensive way to get rid of the lawn is to put layers and layers of newspaper on top of the grass where you want the new bed to be. Water the newspaper and then add a thin layer of manure and finish with a 10- to 15-cm layer of compost. Next spring, all you need to do is dig holes for the new perennials, add some compost to the hole and plant away. It’s that easy.
If you’re fine with a fairly intensive workout and want to go from lawn to border in one season, either rent a sod cutter or dig the grass out, being certain to get all its roots or you will forever be digging out tufts of unwanted grass.
An existing bed can be easily upgraded by adding five- to 15-cm of compost, well-rotted manure or any other organic material. Do not deep-dig in the new soil amendment. Simply leave it on top of the soil or rake it in, being mindful of existing plant material so as not to injure roots.
Deep digging is actually detrimental to soil health. Digging and turning over the soil exposes a very delicate ecosystem to the air, which dries it out, and to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which sterilizes the soil, killing the soil organisms. All the fertilizer in the world is not going to help your plants unless they are located in the proper location for their needs (light requirement being the most important), in healthy soil rich in nutrients.
My personal tastes lean toward an English/cottage garden border and my favourite perennial, the peony, is, unfortunately, taking its time to flower this year. Our harsh winter and unseasonably cool spring are to blame.
If you are planting a peony for the first time, remember that the “eyes” should not be planted more than five cm deep, otherwise it will not flower. They also need at least four to six hours of sun and should be cut back in the fall after hard frosts. And yes, they do come with ants. It’s believed the ants eat the sticky sap on the buds, thereby allowing the flowers to appear.
Peonies are deer resistant and are fully hardy in our Zone 4 climate and will survive for many years. If you have to divide or move your peony, note that it may sulk for a year or two, so be patient.
Another top pick is the delphinium. These stately spires flower in myriad blues, white or pinks and are best planted in groupings of three to five at the back of the bed or border. They like quite a bit of moisture but are susceptible to delphinium worm, a bright green caterpillar that can wreak havoc on the plant within a matter of weeks. Cutting delphiniums down to 2.5 cm in the fall will minimize the critters’ reappearance next summer.
If there is limited infestation, hand-pick and squish the worms. If you’re squeamish and there are a lot of them, spray with biological insecticide or companion plant lavender, sage or mugwort beside the delphiniums as a caterpillar repellent. Once they have flowered, cut the stalks back by about one-third to one-half and, if the gardening season is long enough before the first killer frost, you’ll get a second flush of bloom, although not as resplendent as the first. Stake the plants as the stalks are hollow and our windy city is not the place for unsupported delphiniums.
And what would an English border be without the queen of the plant world — the rose? I could devote an entire column to the different types of roses, care and so on, but suffice to say, roses like full sun, lots of food and good air circulation.
Other great choices for a full-sun bed or border include: black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia); day lilies (Hemerocallis); phlox; coneflower; alyssum; shasta daisy (but be careful on this one as the shasta is a sterile cultivar of oxeye daisy and it can revert to become fertile, as well as crossbreed with oxeye daisy to produce an invasive hybrid); dianthus; salvia; iris; and lilies, to name but a few.
A note of caution on lilies. The red lily leaf beetle is a nasty pest that can destroy entire plants in a very short period of time. This brute is most commonly found on Asiatic and Oriental varieties and should be eradicated as soon as detected by either hand-picking and destroying the larvae and beetle or spray with neem oil.
A selection of perennials to consider for a shaded bed or border include: Annabelle hydrangea; Ligularia; ferns; Bruneria; Hosta; Astilbe; Lupines; Bergenia; and Columbine.
So, heartfelt welcome to the first day of summer! Although hearing on a weather channel that the days will start getting shorter from now on caused me to reach for the gin. Before noon, no less.
This fully mature perennial bed features Salvia, Agapanthus, Canna Lilies and grasses. The tones are of similar vibrancy and the grasses have a muting effect.
Peonies like this single flame variety are relatively easy to care for but in our climate be prepared to provide some winter protection.