Adventures in gardening: Happy accidents & height control
When June arrives I always feel like summer has finally arrived – my favourite season, at long last! The last round of spring perennials and shrubs are blossoming and early summer varieties are growing well. Another sign – the Weather Network released its ‘Summer Outlook’ and the forecast for the season hints at an interesting trend for gardeners. It’s likely that many areas of Canada will see slightly longer warmer or cooler spells, and slightly longer drier or wetter periods than normal. Thunderstorms mean that summer weather is always changeable but this year’s forecast means that gardeners need to be prepared. For example, if conditions are persistently damp or humid you’ll want to look for signs of disease such as the powdery mildew that perennials like Phlox are prone to – and if it’s hot and/or dry for a longer stretch, watch for signs of heat stress or acute dryness. The former means removing the diseased portions and treating the plant area with spray – the latter means watering deeply and infrequently, rather than lightly every day, in order to keep roots strong.
Nature works in wonderful ways. A lone Crocus pops up in the middle of your lawn. Roses of Sharon push up new shoots in all directions. Cosmos returns despite being an annual, because it has self-seeded – and so on. The headline picture here is one such ‘happy accident.’ I’ve never planted pink Columbine in my garden, and yet there they are - three healthy clumps beneath the hedge along the side of the house. Their delicate pink blooms are a delight - so intricate, some describe the look as similar to folded paper lanterns. These surprises make for lovely discoveries and are one of the things that make gardening such a neat adventure. A short distance away is this blue Columbine, which I did plant. Seen up close the palette is like looking at a beautiful watercolour painting, hence the inspiration for this week’s closing quote.
Interesting fact about the Columbine family - plants tend to be short-lived but they do self-seed readily, which means if there are other varieties nearby they may create their own natural hybrids. In other words, you will have a truly unique, one-of-a-kind creation in your garden. Other plants that are great self-seeders include Foxglove (a biennial) and Love-In-A-Mist (an annual).
Several of my early spring columns focused on pruning ornamental grasses and perennials – but pruning doesn’t end there. (Do I hear a groan?) I used to find it quite frustrating when certain tall plants would flop over later in the summer. They’d simply grown too tall or heavy to support themselves. Then I learned about pruning for height control.
When it comes to a number of summer and autumn-flowering perennials many gardeners will cut plants back once before they flower. There are several reasons for doing this:
- It reduces the need for staking when plants grow too tall or heavy to stay upright.
- It can delay the flowering of summer bloomers, which is helpful if you’re going to be away during the bloom time.
- It gives gardeners the ability to stagger bloom times by selectively pruning plants of the same species, giving a longer bloom period to a particular group.
- It can produce a more compact growing habit rather than ‘leggy’ plants.
The trick is getting the timing right - early June can be the perfect time to prune for height control. It’s important to keep in mind that perennials will respond differently – so if you’re unsure about what’s best for your plant or growing zone, do a bit of research or talk to your local garden centre. Generally speaking, the more of a plant that’s cut off or the closer it’s pruned to its flowering date, the bigger the delay in flowering. However, the amount of delay is not directly related to the timing of the pruning.
One of my favourite low-maintenance, long-blooming summer perennials is Heliopsis, or False Sunflower – but you can see that it’s already waist high by early June. Left un-pruned it will grow to 5’/150 cm. Cutting it back by one-third to one-half means it will flower at 3-4’/60-120 cm - I’ll also leave some plants untouched so blooms in the group are at staggered heights.
Experiment with the summer and autumn-flowering perennials in your garden to reduce your maintenance efforts, create pleasing effects and extend your bloom period.
Late spring/early summer ‘to do list’
- Enjoy late spring/early summer classics like Snow in Summer, pictured here. This perennial is sun-loving, drought tolerant, spreads well and is very attractive as a border or rockery plant. As with all seed heads which develop after flowering, you can leave the plant to self-seed or collect the seeds to scatter elsewhere.
- Prune or cut back certain summer perennials by one third to one half, if desired.
- Prune or cut back certain autumn perennials mid/late June (depending on your zone) for height control, once they reach 12-16”/30-40cm in height.
- Weed, weed, weed! Do it properly and thoroughly through June and you won’t have many to deal with in July and August.
- When picking out annuals, perennials or shrubs at the nursery remember to choose varieties that are appropriate for the amount of sun/shade in your garden – too much or too little and the plant can’t thrive and may die off altogether.
- Watch for signs of bugs and treat plants promptly before damage accelerates.
This stunning photo comes from Gail Cole in Uxbridge, Ontario. Masters Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh created classic paintings featuring various types of purple Iris. If it worked to such magical effect in Monet’s garden at Giverny it just might be a perfect addition to yours.
I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions. You can add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Be sure to join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast.
Check out the Weather Network’s ‘Summer Outlook’ on the website to find out more about your area. Summer can seem all too short in Canada but the outdoors is beckoning - what are you waiting for?
Happy gardening adventures!
“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet