Column: Superheroes in the summer landscape
Well, we're into July again, and with its rising humidity, it presents the right climate to give growing things a very welcome and beneficial pick-me-up.
Right now landscape plants are somewhat scrawny, starving, and ready to lap up whatever the monsoon delivers. Consequently, the Independence Day holiday should be on every gardener's calendar for the summer feeding of everything in the landscape. This is especially important for summer and autumn blooming plants. I use my "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4 to encourage larger flowers on crape myrtles, Russian sages, salvias, butterfly bushes, roses and all other perennial bloomers. Plants that look beat up from spring wind and early summer heat will rebound with an application of this food. Even evergreens appreciate a good dose to pump up their needles to a robust green.
Most landscape plants will survive without our help but are not likely to thrive if left on their own. A little tending with some good plant food makes a huge difference in their development. So, feed your flowers and while you're at it, don't overlook your grapes, ivies, trumpet vines and other climbing plants. Just spread my 7-4-4 blend like any other granular food and step aside. Our monsoon rains will work it through rocks and fabric deep into those hungry roots.
Summer bloomers are the least understood of all garden denizens. However, with some strategic summer blooming plants in the landscape, a whole new color dimension can be brought in to enhance your homescape. If your landscape needs some of these colorful bloomers, you can make those additions now. Planting during the monsoon season is far easier and more successful than you may think.
During July, garden centers are filled with the best of our area garden's summer bloomers. Their color palettes offer the crape myrtle's rich vibrant pinks, the hummingbird reds of autumn sage, hyssop's firecracker oranges, hydrangeas' pinks and blues, and the ever-popular violet shades of Russian sage. These heat lovers do best when planted in the heat of summer; they will wait until the hottest days before they are infused with new growth. Summer blooming plants are so well prized because of their toughness and their flowers of outrageous sizes and colors.
For most summer bloomers, the more sun they get the bigger and brighter their flowers. For the greatest flower potential, try placing these sun lovers in at least six hours of sun exposure per day.
One benefit of planting at this time is that larger plant specimens are offered in summer. The larger the roots on a plant, the more forgiving they are to gardener errors. Because they have deeper roots, larger plants require watering less frequently, need less plant food, and offer greater resistance to insects. Bigger is truly better when it comes to plant health and stability in an arid climate. This is especially good to know if you are planting in an unusually tough spot or tend to kill plants more easily than your green-thumbed grandmother did! Another benefit of planting in July is that not only are plants like rosemary, butterfly bush, and echinacea at twice their springtime size but they go into your garden while in their full glorious bloom!
Crape myrtle - This 4-foot tall shrub is as showy as they come for summer blooms. Its flower color and volume of blossoms are so intense that they often outshine the blossoms of summer rival, the rose of Sharon. The Cherry Dazzle crape myrtle begins its colorful show with new bronze leaves that mature to tropical green and are followed by masses of vibrant red flowers that continue through the entire summer season. Its spectacular fall foliage is a showstopper of red and purple. Compact and super easy to care for, many neighborhoods are popping with crape myrtle color even as you read this column.
Stella De Oro daylily - This carefree perennial fits into almost any garden. Tuck it into perennial borders as individual plantings or in small clusters. It even can be arranged in rows against foundations as a mini hedge. Mass plantings will deliver a sea of color that serves much like a groundcover. It can bring dramatic relief between dwarf shrubs along driveways and at a street's edge. With its strap-leafed form and flowers on long wand-like stems, Stella De Oro delivers an instant blast of summer color to any landscape.
Desert willow - Blooming in the wilds of Dewey to Skull Valley, this drought- and heat-loving tree makes the ideal specimen for water-challenged areas. Stunning orchid shaped flowers adorn this 12-foot tall tree. Plant it in the front yard and call attention to a home's entry. Use it in back as a focal point from heavily trafficked windows and sliders. Plant a few around patios for a sense of enclosure and light filtered shade at maturity. Best of all, once established this tree can go it alone and still bloom every summer like clockwork.
Pink abelia - Few plants shine in the darker spots of the yard as does this excellent shade-loving shrub, but it also tolerates a lot of light. The gracefully arching branches form small, bell-shaped, lilac-pink flowers that hummingbirds dearly love. Although semi-evergreen most years, when its leaves do turn in autumn it takes on a stunning shade of bronze. This plant is striking as the accent plant in a large container.
St. John's wort - This highly unusual plant is only found at garden centers during the summer season, but because, alas, this column has reached its spatial limitations, I can't elaborate. You will have to visit your favorite garden center to see it for yourself. I will have this plant, and more hands-on examples of the best summer bloomers, at this morning's garden class. The hour-long class, with the same title as this article, "Superheroes of the Summer Landscape," is free and starts promptly at 9:30 a.m. If you are struggling with bugs or weeds in your landscape you are invited to the July 14 class, "NO Bugs & Weeds in the Garden." You can check out the entire summer class schedule at www.facebook.com/watters1815/events.
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 web site at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."