Nancy Brachey

Take stock of how your garden grows in this dry heat

These flowers, the yellow black-eyed susan named Goldsturm, and sturdy pink pentas are proving their worth this hot summer.
These flowers, the yellow black-eyed susan named Goldsturm, and sturdy pink pentas are proving their worth this hot summer. MCT

Surely, August will be better.

The enforced hiatus caused by extreme heat this summer has left many gardeners feeling lonely for their landscape. Normally, I anticipate August with dread, but perhaps for once it will be a breath of fresh air. Imagine that.

Looking ahead, it seems an opportune moment to size up what is happening to flower beds and the overall landscape around our homes as this difficult summer moves on.

Where are your problem areas? What is doing well, or not well?

Just this week, I heard from a woman wondering about pruning shrubs that were planted too close together in their youth and now require annual trimming. This is a common problem. It is partly due to the desire to have a landscape that looks full and complete when it is planted with young, small shrubs, which it seems will take forever to grow. Forever comes much faster than you thought.

The Piedmont’s long growing season brings along those shrubs much faster than you expect, and within a matter of years, annual pruning is required. If this is your problem, take note now and plan to thin out these plantings this fall or winter.

Another timely evaluation is taking stock of what is doing well, even in this hot summer. Many things are, and it is a real lift to see them doing so. Lantana, for example, is a popular plant for flowerbeds and containers that seems unfazed this summer. I have also seen plantings of black-eyed Susans, sages, pentas, coreopsis, verbenas and Shasta daisies that are blooming well and looking sturdy. Remember this when selecting bedding plants in spring and perennials in the fall.

The crape myrtles, particularly the popular white Natchez, are blooming well, and give great beauty to both public and private landscapes through the summer. If you have landscape plants that look so bad or are so overgrown that you hate to look at them, plan to replace them this fall. Do not let yourself be burdened by plants you hate.

While plant selection is important when planning flower beds, a large part of the success can be credited to excellent bed preparation. Loose soil, enriched with compost, allows excellent root development that increases the sturdiness of plants and allows them to withstand high soil temperature.

The compost, laden with nutrients, also holds moisture around the roots, but not too much moisture. This is good, even when a flowerbed is replanted in early summer – and in full sun – as spring flowers, such as pansies, play out. And this helps heat-tolerant plants, such as pentas and lantana, thrive even when they are hit almost immediately by high temperatures, which was certainly the case this summer.

And so, August looms. I can’t wait. Never thought I would say that.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. I haven’t touched a clump of beared iris this summer. It should be divided but is it too late?

A. No, but put this on your to-do list to accomplish by about mid-August. That will give the divided and replanted irises time to settle in and grow good roots this autumn.