Column: Summer's hottest bloomers are now in full color
To gardeners, August means that garden centers are filled with the best of the summer bloomers. Their color palettes offer the crepe myrtle's rich vibrant pinks, hummingbird reds of autumn sage, hyssop's firecracker oranges, hydrangea pinks and blues, and the ever-popular violet shades of Russian sage. These heat-lovers do best when planted in summer; they then wait until the hottest days before they're infused with new growth. Summer-blooming plants are so well-prized because they can be the toughest, hardiest bloomers, with flowers of outrageous sizes and colors.
Crepe myrtle is as showy as they come for summer blooms. I find its flowers so intense they often outshine the blossoms of its summer-blooming companion, Rose of Sharon. Like most of the other summer bloomers, the more sun received during the day, the bigger and brighter the flowers will be. For the greatest flower potential, I try to place these sun-lovers in at least six hours of sun exposure per day.
By this time of summer, garden centers offer all types of plants in larger sizes. So not only are the larger-sized rosemary, butterfly bush and echinacea in full bloom, but they also are twice their springtime sizes. This is especially good to know if you are planting in an unusually tough spot or tend to kill plants more easily than your grandmother did. The bigger root balls of larger plants provide a greater, more forgiving margin for error. Because they have deeper roots, larger plants require watering less frequently, need less plant food and offer greater resistance to insects.
Summer bloomers are sought after because their flowers are so much larger than their spring-blooming counterparts. Impressive is the only way to describe a hardy hibiscus in full bloom, but when neglected it can become one of the ugliest specimens in the yard. The secret to successful summer-blooming plants is food and lots of it. With proper care a shrub will be so heavily covered in flowers it will be difficult to see its foliage! This is the reason I developed the perfect plant food for mountain bloomers. This all-natural granular food releases small amounts of food with each cycle of rain and irrigation. The key to better, brighter blooms, and more of them, is in what the plants are fed.
Be careful not to over-water these larger plants. The tendency of many of my summer customers is to kill their plants with liquid kindness. Plants must breathe between waterings, especially in heavy clay soils. A new five-gallon size tree, shrub or large perennial should be given a deep watering every 3-4 days, no more.
"But how much water should I give my plants, Ken?" I hear this question so often! Visualize one inch of water on top of the ground; this amount will penetrate six inches into the soil and into the plant's root ball. A larger 15-gallon tree might need 3-4 inches of water administered over the roots with each irrigation to penetrate the entire root mass. The average drip irrigation system must run anywhere from 2-3 hours each cycle to accomplish the same. The secret to effective watering is very deep irrigation, then allowing the roots to breathe.
If you want more watering info, ask for my Mountain Watering Guide the next time you visit me at the garden center.
Grasshoppers have taken hold in many of Prescott's surrounding communities. Kill these invaders with NOLO bait sprinkled at the outer edges of garden and property lines. This all-natural bug bait kills both grasshoppers and crickets. Also effective are sprays containing permethrin. I find the '38 Plus insect killer especially effective on larger summer bugs. I use this same spray as a barrier around my basement, doors and windows to keep spiders, scorpions and beetles out of my house. This is the perfect spray for DIY home pest control.
I will go into more detail about these pests and others this Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon on my radio show "The Mountain Gardener," airing on 1130 AM, KQNA. Listen in for some good advice that is unique to gardening in the mountains of Arizona.
For those of you who prefer hands-on gardening instruction, I teach a summer series of gardening classes. They are held free of charge every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Watters Garden Center. This week's class is entitled "Great-looking Ground Covers."
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."