By Barbara Hyde
July can be a month of extreme heat, and with global warming breathing down upon us, we can count on only a few flowering plants to brighten our gardens. Garden Phlox (ˆPhlox paniculate) is one of them that shines in a hot summer. Among the greatest is Phlox “David”, with huge white flower heads atop four-foot stems. It abides well in moist soils and hates drought. Powdery mildew will appear rarely if too crowded or over-watered. The hybridizers have been at work, “Bright Eyes” has pale pink flower heads with each floret with a darker eye. “Miss Mary” is a brilliant red. “Fashionably Flamingo” is a shorter, but still floriferous hybrid with deep purple blooms.
July is also called “The deadheads” month because this is a daily chore if you have a flowery garden. Take heart in remembering that the goal of every plant in the universe is to recreate itself —hence seed heads. Leaving them hanging means a host of hybrids at the feet of the original plant that will crowd out the parent. As you go forth every morning to deadhead, wear your shears in a holster and wear an apron around your waist with an open bag in the pocket in which to drop in the deadheads. Keeping Daylilies deadheaded is imperative, but wait until the entire scape has finished blooming, then give the stalk a yank and it will come up neatly.. Poppy seed heads are the most critical to be rid of, for they have a notorious rate of germination. Get rid of them now or be forever on your knees digging seedlings.
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) make an excellent ground cover. If you are already growing it, take cuttings now of the new growth, which may be only an inch or two long. These “soft” cuttings will root quickly in moist soil in part shade, and will soon be ready for planting at intervals to make a new ground cover or to give away. If there are blank spaces in your perennial border where plants have not yet spread, visit the garden center once more to pick up annuals in full bloom to set into place.
Zinnias are beginning to bloom. They are a honeybee favorite. Treat them tenderly. Fertilize lightly and water faithfully. Do you have “Balloon Flower”? It’s finicky, and hates crowding; resents transplanting. Give it plenty of room and it will bloom all summer. Cut back petunias if they have bloomed all the way to the end of the stalk. With a light fertilization, they will continue on through the summer until frost. I’ve noticed that some gardeners deadhead their petunias by pulling on the spent flower. This does NOT destroy the stem’s base which quickly forms seed which drops, germinates, and becomes an inferior flower.
Invest a little time in propagation by layering. This is simply bending a branch of a plant to near the ground; wounding slightly the underside of the branch where it touches the soil. Place a stone heavy enough to hold the branch down on top of the branch; label or “flag” your branch, and go away. Within a month a light tug on the branch will reveal it has rooted. Lift it gently and plant it at a new location or pot it up as a gift or place it in the cold frame to await the next plant sale.