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Summer Care For Perennials

Summer Care For Perennials

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photographs by Melinda Myers, LLC

Keep your perennial flowers looking their best with minimal effort. Provide essentials like water as needed and mulch to reduce your workload. Do a bit of grooming as time allows to maximize your garden’s beauty.

Water newly planted perennials often enough to keep the soil around their roots slightly moist. Always water thoroughly and gradually extend the time between watering to encourage deep, drought-tolerant roots.

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Don’t overlook established plants during hot, dry weather. Water these thoroughly during extended dry periods. Let soil moisture, not the calendar, be your guide. Adjust your watering practices based on temperature, soil type and rainfall.

Conserve water and your time with mulch. This one task helps keep roots cool and moist, suppresses weeds and improves the soil as it decomposes. Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch over the soil surface, keeping it away from the base of the plants. Your perennials will be better able to tolerate the summer stresses and you’ll spend less time on routine maintenance.

Continue to remove weeds throughout the summer. These unwanted plants compete with the perennials for water and nutrients. Many are hosts for insect and diseases, increasing the risk of these pests attacking your plants.

Fertilize heavy feeders and those that were severely cut back earlier in the season. Use a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer like Milorganite that won’t damage plants even when the weather is hot and dry. You’ll also improve the soil when using Milorganite since it contains 85% organic matter.

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Give struggling perennials growing in compacted soil a boost. Spread compost over the soil surface and use an auger bit on a drill to aerate the soil. Drilling holes throughout the garden helps incorporate the compost and loosens the compacted soil.

Stake fall bloomers and floppy plants in need of support. Twigs and other woody stems can be woven through the plant for a more natural look. Use recycled items to create decorative and unique supports or purchase one of the many products available at the garden center.

Finish pinching and cutting back fall bloomers like mums and asters in mid summer. Complete these tasks in early July when gardening in the North, by mid-July in the Midwest and as late as the end of July in the South. Pruning later than this can delay flowering until cold weather arrives, shortening or eliminating the fall floral display.

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Remove faded flowers (deadhead) to improve the plant’s appearance, encourage more flowers or prevent reseeding. You will be doing this more often in hot weather, which shortens the perennial’s bloom cycle, and less often on young plants that tend to be more vigorous. Regularly dividing plants like threadleaf coreopsis and repeat blooming daylilies can encourage longer bloom with little or no deadheading.

Removing flowers on plants prized for their foliage, like lamb’s ears, can keep the leaves looking their best and improve the plant’s overall appearance. Extend the life of season-long bloomers like gaillardia and pincushion flower with late summer deadheading. Cut flower stems back to the leaves at the base of the plant. This promotes growth of leaves and stems instead of flowers, increasing hardiness and winter survival.

Deadhead columbine, willow amsonia and other heavy seeders if you want to greatly reduce the number of seedlings that sprout in next year’s garden. Stop deadheading other perennials in late summer or early fall to allow seedheads to form. The seedheads add winter interest and many attract songbirds to the garden.

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Remove the flower stems of veronicas, salvias and other spike-type flowers. Cut below the flower stem and just above the first set of leaves or the side shoots where new flower buds are forming. Remove the whole flower stem of coral bells, sea thrift and other flowers where the flower stem arises from the base of the plant.

Plants like daylilies require a bit different care. Remove the individual blooms as they fade for a neater appearance. Once all the individual flowers have bloomed out, you can cut the flower stem back at the base. 

Deadheading peonies is done strictly for aesthetics. Removing the seedpods as they form, back to a healthy set of leaves, helps keep stems upright and makes for a tidier plant throughout the summer.

No time for this much deadheading? Don’t worry. Your plants will still look beautiful. Just adjust your maintenance efforts to fit your gardening goals and schedule. You’ll be surprised how even a small bit of time spent in the garden boosts your mood and improves the health and beauty of your perennial garden.

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