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Add annuals to bare spots in your garden

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I did nothing with my paper-white narcissus after they bloomed last winter. Is it too late to plant them outside or do anything else? Or are they a total loss?

    If the foliage of those bulbs stayed green and healthy for a time, meaning a couple of months or so, the bulbs may have now gone dormant. If they were growing in water, though, I would throw them out. If they were in a pot of soil, consider planting them outside in your flower bed. But if the bulbs feel dry and withered when you take them out of the pot, just throw them away.

Though the major planting of flower beds is finished for the summer, if you look closely you may see some odd spots that need a dash of color. These are likely to be areas where foliage of spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils matured. Raked or pulled away, this foliage leaves bare spots that are quite easily fixed.

Garden centers remain well stocked with small pots of flowering annuals that have a long season of bloom left in them. I suggest annuals because you are likely to be planting these early-summer additions over space occupied by dormant flower bulbs, which should come back next year. And I say small because you don’t want to dig too deeply and disturb these sleeping bulbs. Annuals, which will be gone in the autumn, are just right for this temporary fix.

And because they are in bloom, you can see exactly the color and shape of the flowers you are buying. That gives you an opportunity to experiment with entirely different colors or move from bright to pastels or pastels to bright. The result is a change and a lift to the garden as it moves toward midsummer.

For many years, summer meant drought in the Piedmont and water restrictions seemed here to stay. But we’ve had such good rainfall this spring and summer that little watering – except for hanging baskets and pots – has been required. Rain has kept soil soft and easy to cultivate with a hand trowel. Not so long ago even good garden soil was close to hard as bricks, thanks to heat and drought.

Plant selection is, of course, important. Portions of a flower bed that were sunny in spring look quite shady now thanks to the dense canopy of trees that cover much of our area. Places that might have been bright enough for marigolds in April now require shade lovers such as begonias or impatiens. Where even small patches of sunny space exist, go for such long-flowering warm-weather choices as pentas, zinnias, lantana or marigolds. The color choices may not be quite as large as they would be two months ago, but keep an open mind. You may choose something that might not have appealed to you in spring but may do so now. And for heavens sake, do not worry about clashing colors. This is not your living room. In a garden, colors blend, they rarely clash. But if you are fearful, stick to tones and shades of the same color you already possess, such as pink, rose and red or lavender, blue and violet.

The chief caution is not about plant or color selection but the actual planting. Remember those bulbs down there? They are not as tough as they look. The tip of a trowel will pierce and ruin them. So take care when planting your fresh annuals. Instead of trowel with a pointed tip, use a small hand cultivator – one of those little tools with three prongs – to gently pull back the soil to the necessary depth without hitting the bulbs.

Even though these annuals are in bloom, they require regular doses of fertilizer to keep them full of pep. Be sure to take off spent flowers as they develop. These two actions will keep the plants growing and going. Water, of course, is important, but it seems like rainfall has been sufficient so far. Of course, as we know, that could change.


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