In a few weeks, summer will be all but a memory. For gardeners, this is the perfect time to take stock and plan ahead.
It was one hot summer and one rainy spring, which, area green-thumb enthusiasts say, affected not only their blooms but also their vegetables.
"My hydrangeas have never looked as good as they have in 2011, and, judging from other hydrangeas I've seen driving around town, I think everyone has enjoyed the same experience," said gardener Randy Engle of Troy.
"A late, wet and cool spring allowed these sensitive plants to come out of hibernation and start their growth spurt before being zapped with too much heat. The wet June and the dappled-sunlight days of July created big mophead blooms. My hydrangeas are now so big and heavy that I may have to stake the branches to keep them up!"
Engle joins several gardeners who are taking in the last of summer's blooms and critiquing the season's display of color.
“August is the perfect time to go around your garden and take notes,” said Royal Oak-based professional advanced master gardener Bridget McElroy. “Some of your perennials may need to be moved to the back of the garden because of their height. Some should be transplanted to another area to get more or less sunlight depending on their performance.”
This week, Cyndi Cummings of Troy is rearranging a few areas of her gardens because the summer heat was hard on her plants. "Earlier this month, I took pictures of the wilted plants and have found places to move them where the sun isn’t so harsh," Cummings said.
Hydrangea lover Richard Ciesielski recently surveyed his shrubs and flowers and noticed that the two hydrangeas near his front door had only a few blooms of bright pink on them. He’s making notes on how to encourage more color and blooms next year. He also has a hydrangea tree that’s about 10 feet tall with lots of flowers but he has issues with the new-growth branches that are so long they tend to block the entrance to the house. He wants to trim but is afraid he’ll lose blooms for next year.
“Both of Richard's types grow on old wood, which means they will set flower buds on stems from the previous year,” Rosenhaus explained. “So even if he trims back the tree, the remaining branches will produce blooms. It’s also important for him to prune out some limbs so they don’t break from the weight of the blossoms.”
As for getting more blooms on the hydrangea shrub next year, Rosenhaus said, “These plants need more sun than people think, to flower profusely. I suggest fertilizing it and trimming before Labor Day.”
McElroy suggests cutting back all the stems on many perennials, which makes it much easier to divide and transplant.
That’s just what gardener Brandy Silverstein of Bloomfield Hills recently did in her garden.
“My garden is on its last leg for the summer,” said Silverstein, who has expansive beds in her front, side and back yards. “I’m ready for planting fall flowers; I have already cut down a lot of stuff and have some great ideas for next year, such as moving a few larger plants around and what color annuals I will be doing next year. I plan on doing a lot more color.”
Silverstein doesn’t keep a journal; she prefers to take photos to help her review her progress.
Now is also the time to see which plants have flopped over from the weight of their blooms, McElroy suggested. “Make notes (or take pictures) now and in the spring you can put plant supports around the new growth.”
Color still on the horizon
There are also the perennials that were deadheaded earlier and may be ready to show off their second round of blooms, McElroy explained. “Also, giving your annual some attention now could give you beautiful blooms until the first frost,” she said. “Trimming, deadheading, fertilizing and always making sure they are watered properly will help keep them healthy looking.”
Deborah Lee, owner of Shades of Green nursery in Rochester Hills, agrees that gardeners should continue to water late into the season and dead head flowers to extend bloom or keep plants from reseeding.
If you look out to your yard now and see that color is waning, it’s also the perfect time to continue planting, Lee said. “You can have color into October and November,” she said. “Add plants like aconitum, anemone, aster, ornamental grasses, knock out roses, rudbeckia and tricyrtis to extend bloom.”
Start thinking about bulbs
“This is also an excellent time to decide what types of bulbs to plant for early spring color in the beds,” Lee said.
“Remember, deer don't like daffodil, grape hyacinth, or scilla flowers,” she said. “Also, more is better when planting bulbs. Buy them in mass — 100 daffodil bulbs has a much bigger impact than 12.”
Delights and duds
Robin Reisig of Sylvan Lake has been gardening for some 25 years. The daylilies in her garden were big fans of the hot weather.
“My August flowering lilies are blooming longer this year,” Reisig said. On the contrary, her oakleaf hydrangea took much longer to reach flowering stage this year. Her tree peony did not flower at all, while her Japanese anemone bloomed early.
The weather from spring through summer is chiefly responsible, Reisig said.
Her assessment this year also calls for dividing some of the daylilies. “Not everyone knows this but there are daylilies that will decline to nothing if they are too crowded,” she said.
Some of Reisig’s favorite annuals this year include dragon wing begonias, dwarf brugmansia (from the farmers market in Waterford), verbena bonariensis, cosmos, calendula and alyssum. “I need to move the bonariensis, cosmos, calendula and alyssum around so they don't block the paths,” she said.
Not only should gardeners move things around after reviewing their outcome, but also consider splitting perennials, as Reisig does for her daylilies, master gardener McElroy said. “Fall is the perfect time to split and transplant perennials,” McElroy said. “You can dig up a hosta and divide it sometimes into as many as four plants. In the spring they will come up looking brand new.”
Some of the larger hosta varieties, such as sum and substance and guacamole may not be as large for a season or two after being split, but they will eventually catch up.
Look for sales
If you feel you don’t have much color in your late summer garden, now would be the time to take advantage of sales at the nurseries, McElroy said. “Some fall flowering perennials would be black-eyed Susans, Japanese anemones, turtlehead, asters, dahlias, snakeroot, monkshood, sedum and buddelia – butterfly bush.”
In Bloomfield Hills, gardener Brandy Silverstein is all about fall color. “I am ready for the fall and all the fall colors ... and ready to say good-bye to my summer garden for the winter.”