While you haven't exactly neglected the landscape of late, it does seem things aren't as rosy as they were a few weeks ago. The flower bed was outstanding up to a week ago, thanks to above-average (3.88 inches) June rainfall, but you'd be hard pressed now to find many flower buds on the way. The lawn seems to have gone off color. Some trees are dropping their leaves for apparently no reason. Some azaleas have grown so little you wonder if there could be any flowers in the cards for next spring. The list goes on and on.
For better or worse, there are reasons for each of these events.
Several events triggered the sudden loss of flowers in the bedding garden.
First, the fertilizer is gone. The 5-10-5 added in May has been consumed by your plants. If you don't fertilize, you have seen your last flowers for the year.
Second, the shredded mulch has siphoned off nutrients from the soil in a way you hadn't anticipated. Mulch extracts nitrogen from the soil, therefore some of the fertilizer intended for the plants wound up in the mulch. If you had applied liquid fish emulsion to the soil before scattering the mulch, the fertilizer would have been saved for the plants.
Finally, the incessant heat from the sun has dissipated much of the bedding plants' energy.
A quick turnabout is easy if you do it today. When you take those first steps into the garden this morning, grab your pruner, a plastic trash bag and head for the bedding garden to put your plants in order. The rule to follow is: if the flowering plant isn't flowering or doesn't have buds this minute, prune it to within four or five inches of the ground. If plants have blotchy leaves, cut these parts, too, in an effort to stop disease from spreading.
For example, take petunias. Don't feel squeamish about butchering the stalks back to almost nothing. Geraniums, impatiens, zinnia, marigold, aster, black-eyed Susan, sweet pea, gaillardia, calendula and other plants will respond affirmatively to the pruning. The likes of ageratum and alyssum require little fertilizer, therefore don't prune the plants for any reason. Their flowers should last all season.
After pruning, fertilize immediately. Fill an empty one-pound coffee can with 5-10-5, then sprinkle the granules over a 100-square-foot area of the flower bed (over the mulch or the soil). Water the bed thoroughly. Soak twice more during the week. No additional plant food will be needed for the rest of the year. Usually, plants will resume flowering within a week and will bloom up to the frost.
On the lawn, target your midsummer Milorganite application now, five pounds per thousand square feet. Spreader settings are: 4 1/4 on the rotary Cyclone or Spyker ... 6 on the Scott drop spreader ... 1 on the Scott rotary. Cut the lawn first if needed, then fertilize.
As for the premature leaf drop on some trees, there could be a number of reasons. A few that come to mind include:
Peach leaf curl. This disease attacks apricot, nectarine, peach and plum trees, forcing the outermost foliage to drop. This weakens trees and over a four-to-five-year span usually will destroy the tree. For the moment, pick up all leaves that drop, continuing this practice through the fall. Meanwhile, erect a dike beyond the dripline of the tree, and flood the area just inside the dike (where the feeding roots are) twice a week. Next April, when the first leaf shoots appear, apply lime-sulfur to the shoots, two treatments a week apart. This will prevent the disease from returning.
Fireblight. This disease attacks apple, crab apple, cotoneaster, hawthorn, mountain ash, photinia, pyracantha, quince and spirea. Leaves turn charcoal black, hanging from the limb and eventually falling to the ground. The disease starts in the petals of the flower, splashing to the leaves in the rain, entering the leaf pores and moving into the limb itself. Pruning must be done now to save limbs showing the blackened foliage. Go to the innermost black leaf on the limb, then go back eight inches toward the trunk from this point and prune the limb away. Dip a rag into a solution of one part liquid chlorine bleach and 10 parts water, then wipe down all sides of the cutting blades between pruning cuts to kill any spores on the pruner. Other pointers: Don't cultivate the soil around the dripline of afflicted trees any more this year, go easy on nitrogen fertilization in early November if leaves drop, or next February if leaves don't drop, and apply fireblight spray (streptomycin sulfate) twice to trees next April when flowers open, and a second spray a week later.
Fruit trees and their susceptibility to fireblight are as follows:
Apples: Certain to catch fireblight are Fenton, Idared, Lodi, Puritan, Rhode Island Greening, Rome Beauty, Tompkins King, Twenty Ounce and Wealthy. Trees such as Delicious, McIntosh, Golden Delicious and Stayman are often touched by the fungus, but it seldom gets into the limbs. Cortland, Dutchess, Jerseymac, Northern Spy, Spartan and Wayne are moderately susceptible. Winsap is resistant to fireblight.
Crab Apple: Columnar, Dorothea, Pink Perfection, Jade and Van Eseltine are susceptible.
Pears: Certain to attract fireblight are Aurora, Bartlett, Bosc, Clapp's Favorite, Flemish Beauty, Howell, Red Bartlett, Reimer Red and Starkrimson. Resistant to fireblight are Kieffer, Magness, Moonglow and Old Home.
If you have a chestnut tree, attack the chestnut weevil now. Scatter Oftanol granules under the tree from the trunk to the dripline and a foot beyond, then soak the area thoroughly to wash the Oftanol into the subsoil where the larvae of the weevil may be found. Applied now, Oftanol will keep chestnuts free of infestation next month.
Oaks have been hard hit by borers recently, so check for a gummy substance leaking from the trunk in one or more locations. Wipe the area clean with a cloth, then use a metal cake testing probe to clean the hole. Thrust the cake tester in and out of the hole a dozen or more times to get rid of as much fluid as possible. Next, put a pinch of moth crystals in a teaspoon, move it next to the hole, then use a toothpick or the cake tester to move a few crystals into the hole. The more forced into the hole the better. Caulk the hole shut afterward. Two weeks later, punch through the caulking compound, use the cake tester to remove the moth crystals, then recaulk the hole
Next: Making potpourri, attacking scale, feeding neglected shrubs and an update on the azalea cuttings now rooting in the house.Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).