With plenty of rain this spring, our gardens are lush and full. And, with faded blooms on spring-flowering plants, there's plenty to do outside -- deadhead fading flowers, prune, fertilize and weed.
Deadhead flowers by pinching or cutting them from plants as they fade. This is a good practice on all plants where practical. Snap or clip fading rhododendron blooms to make them fuller next season; flowers should be pinched where they meet the stem. Deadheading keeps most annuals full and flowering, especially geraniums and petunias.
Many perennials have persisted, are blooming now or are getting ready to make their show, including brunnera, iris, day lily, salvia, astilbe, nepeta and dianthus. While performing your June deadheading chores, clip some flowers and bring them indoors to use in vases, stretching your period of enjoyment.
Shear off the forming seed heads of the low evergreen candytuft that flowered throughout April and May. It will come back denser next spring. And, as foliage yellows on bulbs, prune to the ground.
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. Fertilize now and again next month with a granular 5-10-5 nutrient sprinkled around each plant.
If a flower is expected to grow into a fruit or berry, do not pinch it. You might not choose to cut a fading bloom if it has ornamental value. 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.
However, the berries of purple beautyberries (Callicarpa) and winterberry hollies are their greatest assets; never prune the flowers. Prune these shrubs in early spring just as growth begins.
Root prune trees and shrubs that you might want to transplant in the future. It is the most important element to successfully transplanting 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 more roots at the cut. This will ensure success when you move it next year.
Light pruning -- cutting plants lightly immediately after flowering -- will help plants put more energy into foliage, branch growth or another flush of bloom rather than seed production.
Hybrid tea roses are bred to repeat-bloom, provided you prune their flowers before they drop petals. When pruning fading roses, cut the stem of the plant back to a healthy leaf containing at least five leaflets. Keep tea roses blooming all summer this way.
Shearing flowers is necessary when there is a profusion of blooms, as with 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.
Now is the time to touch up azaleas that have fading flowers. Many plants just need light pruning to be kept in shape. If they're sited so they can grow to full maturity, selective trimming is all that's necessary. Never cut too hard at this time of year. Always leave at least two-thirds of a plant's branches.
A long hedge might require shearing. Do this no more than once a year, usually after flowering. If a hedge has no flowering value, shear it after new growth has hardened off a bit, during the summer, provided that it's not a coniferous hedge of pines, spruces, cedars or firs, for example.
And pruning dead wood as it appears on a tree or shrub can stave off a disease problem before it spreads to the rest of the plant. If you are pruning dead or diseased wood, be sure to clean your tool with bleach and then a light oil to protect blades from corrosion before cutting healthy wood.
Fertilize container plants and annuals in-ground through summer with Peters Plant Food, Miracle-Gro or other water-soluble formulation that gets fast results. Mix according to directions and fertilize every other watering. For plantings to thrive outside in containers, they must have adequate drainage. This 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 or plastic foam packing peanuts to insure that plants don't stand in water.
Fertilize cooler-season lawn grasses in late August or early September, when you can be more certain that soil moisture and cool temperatures will begin to return. Zoysia can be treated now with a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer without weed killer. Remember: Fertilizer doesn't work without water.
The best possible overall treatment for your plants is to lay one to two inches of compost over your beds. This addition of organic material will lighten the soil, make it more fertile and give better moisture retention, aeration and drainage.
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 weeds are too invasive to hand pull, a control I use is glyphosate, sold under the names Kleeraway or Roundup. This non-selective herbicide will kill any plant it contacts. So you can't use it on the lawn or the leaves of any other plants that you want to keep. Read and follow label instructions before application. Glyphosate works slowly. 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 organized by the Northern Environmental Action Team with lots of information; see www.prrrdy.com/garden-weeds.php.
Vinegar has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as a non-selective weed control. Use white vinegar off the grocery shelf, undiluted. Be sure to use a plastic sprayer, because vinegar is quite corrosive.
Another weed control is mulch, which is any material that can be laid in your beds to act as a protective covering. It reduces evaporation, prevents erosion, controls weeds and can enrich the soil. Spread 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 prefer organic, partially composted materials.
Get it from your compost pile or buy it in the form of Leafgro at the garden center, or get it free from a county or municipal program. If possible, lightly cultivate the compost into the soil. Nature will do the rest.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.