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The prettiest gardens still need tending

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

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. Do crape myrtle trees need a lot of sun to bloom? I have one in a shady area in the front and it has yet to bloom this year. It barely bloomed last year. With all this rain, we have more shade than ever.

    Crape myrtle trees require sun. If the tree is young and small, consider moving it to a sunnier spot. If you can, thin out the canopy, especially the lower limbs, to allow more sunlight to get through.


As we move toward late summer, it is time to do some thinking about your landscape. The Piedmont looks quite lush, but a look at details of your landscape may reveal some flaws or problems that should be dealt with when the real action gets going in the fall.

Stormy weather that seemed to occur about every other day this summer caused a lot of breakage of weak wood in trees. Where these were small, they caused little damage when they fell. But large limbs are also subject to breaking, which can damage buildings and cars.

Some may have simply cracked and are still lodged in the canopy where they are still prone to breaking fully and falling. Rather than wait to see what happens, you should get a certified arborist to deal with them by cutting off the limb neatly and removing it before it falls on something or someone. At the same time, the arborist can give some chain-saw attention to jagged wounds left by limbs that broke entirely and fell. A smooth cut will encourage rapid healing of the wound, which is very important.

More often, we are used to this sort of worry and action in the winter, when heavy ice weighs down and breaks limbs. Most of us remember the ice storms of past years when we were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of cracking wood. When this happens in the winter, it is easier to spot the damaged wood high in the leafless tree canopy. Now, with the trees in full leaf, damaged wood could be up there but hard to see.

A second thing to think about, given the robust growth all the rain inspired, are your shrubs. Many have grown bigger and faster than you can ever remember. They are sticking into driveways and sidewalks and covering up windows. Wait for winter to do whole-hearted pruning of many kinds of broad-leaf evergreens, but there should be no harm done by cutting back individual branches that interfere with life.

Shrubs that bloom in spring and early summer may be pruned now, but hopefully, not too much. Most of these plants bloom on growth that emerges in late summer, so go easy here, pruning only where necessary. Look closely at gardenias before you cut, since some types bloom again in late summer and may show buds you don’t want to cut off.

Lawns are in quite good shape, again thanks to the rain. But you may notice spots where the turf is thin or worn away due to heavy foot traffic. This can be repaired in September when you do the other tasks for lawn renewal. Plus, there are a lot of weeds out there, and getting rid of them now will make lawn work in September easier.

Perhaps the thing that requires most thought is to determine whether you wish to keep shrubs that don’t appeal to you for various reasons. They could be poor bloomers, in constant need of pruning, or simply not very pretty. At this time of year, with everything looking so lush, consider these troublesome shrubs and make up your mind about replacing them with something better this fall. This is simply a matter of making a decision and sticking with it. Always remember, they are your plants and they should make you happy.

Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com
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