The recent rain has been great for our gardens. Plants are lush and full, summer flowers are opening early and we have had a welcome respite from watering. But there's still plenty to do outside: You can deadhead fading flowers, prune, fertilize and weed.
Deadheading refers to the pinching or cutting of flowers as they fade on the plant. Wherever practical, this is a good practice. Now is the time to pinch fading rhododendron blooms to make them fuller next season; flowers should be pinched right where they meet the stem. Deadheading keeps most annuals full and flowering, especially geraniums and petunias. Coreopsis, a perennial, likes to be clipped 25 percent after blooming.
Numerous perennials are making their show now, including achilleas, coreopsis, daylilies, purple coneflowers, carnations, lilies, liatris, evening primroses, verbenas and many others. While performing your June deadheading chores, clip some of these flowers a little early and bring them indoors to use in vases, stretching your period of enjoyment.
It is a little late in the season, but there's still time to shear off the forming seed heads of the low evergreen candytuft that flowered throughout April. It will come back denser next spring.
If a flower is expected to grow into a fruit, berry or other ornamental formation, don't cut the fading bloom. For example, some people consider the brown-to-black seed heads that persist on black-eyed Susans to be ornamental, so they leave them. I clip them off. But the berries of purple beautyberries (Callicarpa) and winterberry hollies are these shrubs' greatest assets; never prune the flowers. Only prune in early spring just as growth begins.
Root prune trees or shrubs you might want to move. It is the most important ingredient to successfully transplant trees and shrubs. Sink a long, square-edged digging spade into the soil in an 18- to 24-inch circle around the trunk, or wider, depending on the size of the plant. Make sure you slice all the way around. Do not move the plant; leave it to grow many more roots at the cut to ensure success when you transplant it next year.
There's a fine line between light pruning and deadheading. If you cut plants lightly immediately after they flower, they won't produce as much seed and will put more energy into foliage, branch growth or another flush of bloom.
* Roses. Hybrid tea roses are bred to bloom repeatedly, provided you prune their flowers before they drop petals. When you prune the fading rose, prune the stem of the plant back to a healthy leaf containing at least five leaflets. You can keep tea roses blooming all summer this way.
* Deciduous shrubs. Shearing flowers, instead of pinching, is necessary when there is a profusion of blooms, such as on the shrubs bridal wreath spirea or forsythia. Shear off the flowering stems when the blooms fade. Spirea will often bloom again the same year if sheared early enough after first flower.
* Azaleas. If they are too high or wide prune azaleas now, after flowering, but never shear or cut too hard at this time of the year. Prune them soon, before they put on much new growth. Always leave at least two-thirds of the azaleas' branches and they will have lots of flowers next year.
* Bulbs. As foliage on bulbs fades, the flowering stalks should be pruned to the base. This is also true for daylilies.
* Chrysanthemums. Pinch off the top two to four inches of growth on your hardy chrysanthemums now and two more times by the end of July to make them fuller at blooming time. It's common for mums to come back bare in the center of the plant.
Early next spring transplant outer pieces; discard the unproductive wood in the center. These can be fertilized now and next month with a granular 5-10-5 nutrient sprinkled around each plant.
Fertilize container plants through summer with a water-soluble fertilizer. Mix according to labeled directions and fertilize every other watering. For plantings to thrive outside in containers, they must also have adequate drainage. Drainage is the most important consideration for the health of your plants. A hole in the bottom of the container is a must; use a generous layer of stone in the bottom of the container to ensure that plants don't stand in water.
Fertilize annuals in ground or containers with Peters or equivalent nutrient. Miracle Grow is another water-soluble formulation that gets fast results with bedding plants. For impressive results, fertilize and irrigate through summer.
Wait to fertilize cooler-season lawn grasses until late August or early September, when you can be surer that soil moisture and cool temperatures will begin to return. Warm-season grass, such as zoysia, can be treated now with a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer without weed killer. But remember, fertilizer doesn't work without water.
Pull weeds when they're small before they multiply. Every time you pass the beds, pluck a few. Do it while they're young, and they'll never self-sow enough to become a major problem.
If they're too invasive to hand pull, a control I use is glyphosate, sold under the names Kleenup or Roundup. It biodegrades quickly. This non-selective herbicide will kill any plant it contacts. That means you can't use it on the lawn or the leaves of any other plants that you want to keep. Read and follow labeled instructions before application. Glyphosate is slow-working. In the seven days it takes to fully perform, many annual weeds can go to seed.
If you prefer natural weed control, there is a Web site by the same name run by the Northern Environmental Action Team, an organization in British Columbia. They offer a wide selection of control methods and materials. Check out their site at www.prrdy.com/weeds.html.
Another weed control is mulch, which is any material that can be laid in the beds to act as a protective covering, reduce evaporation, prevent erosion, control weeds or enrich the soil. It can be compost, straw, salt hay, ground corn cobs, pine bark nuggets, cocoa bean hulls, shredded hardwood bark, licorice root, wood chips, newspaper, landscape fabric, stone and even shredded tires. I personally prefer organic, partially composted materials.
If you pick up the free mulch that many county governments offer now, it might contain weed seeds. This material needs to be composted for another three months or so and will make great mulch in the fall.
Compost makes an excellent mulch that enriches the soil as it protects. Lay it two inches thick onto beds. Don't pile it against the bark of trees or shrubs. On top of the compost, lay a one-inch veneer of your favorite ornamental mulch to dress up the property for mid-summer, and it's a valuable step toward drought and winter protection.
Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.