The party’s over. Most of the guests have left. A few petunias and hollyhocks (great investments in a winter garden of annuals, flowering long and with great gusto) are the only ones holding on in the summer heat. The bees are still busy. You still spot butterflies such as the Cabbage White fussing over the last of the flowers, but the garden doesn’t look much like it did barely a month ago. Furious deadheading isn’t encouraging any fresh blooming in the garden. It’s virtually war between the gardener and the weather now. Time to get back to work.
If the winter annuals haven’t entirely withered away yet, it does hurt to uproot them. But unless you have enough storage, you’ll have to clean out the tubs now to make room for summer, change soil, add nutrients and make corrections if anything went wrong last season.
What do you do with the pile of dry plants, though? You could pitch them out with the garbage, but you’ll lose a gardener’s gold mine. We prefer to chop ours fine and add them to the compost bin or sprinkle them over the soil as mulch. If you have a lawn, try spreading a layer of grass clippings over the soil. With time, it turns into compost, besides keeping it moist. Just keep an eye out for fungal infestations.
The soil is tired too. Flowering plants drew up much of the soil food you added last season. So feed in dry manure or other organic fertilizer. Rest it for at least a week before planting afresh.
Meanwhile, mend and make amends. One of our tubs, full of dianthus in happy bloom, was losing a lot of water last season because there weren’t enough crocks at the bottom. Now that the dianthus is virtually out, it seems the right time to correct the mistake.
This is also denting-painting time: Scrape off any algae and paint pots afresh (it is a personal choice, but I find terracotta pots look rather pathetic after some use. I use geru, or red earth, from the hardware store, mixed in water with a little Fevicol and applied with a shoe brush).
Also arm your garden to take on the sun. Did you notice any plants getting scorched last year? It may help to invest in awnings or green nursery netting this year. Awnings look smart and are more structured, but are also more expensive. Netting needs proper scaffolding or it can look a little sad. It can also be blown around during a typical summer storm, so this is the time to get your garden’s infrastructure in shape.
Try moving your tubs around too. A seasoned asparagus fern we had went into protest mode last year when we shifted into a sunny house with a cheerful, south-facing garden. Nothing we did could coax it back to health. Fortunately for the plant, we shifted again—and this time, the plant faces the east and gets only some morning sun. Since the plant was obviously in shock, we stood it behind a pillar where it got still more shade. And hey presto! Our friend has responded with healthy, green fronds all over the place.
In hindsight, one realizes it was not just the blast of 7 hours of summer sun, but also the heat reflected off a glass window nearby, that had our fern friend distraught. Moral of the story? If a plant is not doing well, try shifting it around to see if it is huffy over its present location.
Try to see things from the plant’s point of view. It just may work wonders.
The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening.
Write to Benita at firstname.lastname@example.org