Sunday, August 25, 2013

What To Do in August: Smell the Late Summer Roses (Carefully)

           Here are some good ideas for "what to do in August" for your garden. I got this list from an unimpeachable source and will now proceed promptly to impeach it.
            Number one. "Mark the location of your bulbs," which have probably already disappeared but you may still remember roughly where they bloomed by thinking hard (and, to be sure, looking back at the pictures you took when they were looking good), "and also perennials" that will be going dormant -- that should be easier since some part of these plants is still discoverable in most cases (though not all) -- "by," and here's the fun part, "sticking colorful plastic golf tees in the ground" to remind you where these plants were before you put a spade in the ground to plant something else in exactly the same spot and kick yourself later for ruining a perfectly good tulip or spring perennial.
            In fact, I can see why this advice calls for the use of colorful golf tees. Forgetting where you planted something in prior years does in truth have a lot in common with playing golf because in both cases you frequently want to kick yourself. I knew my days of playing golf (a brief and almost entirely forgettable diversion) would eventually prove useful in life's other endeavors, but I never realized that the important part was saving the tees. I thought it was saving the golf balls. This is why when as I searched all over the rough for my own ball, as frequently happened, I pocketed weathered-looking golf balls lost by others so far from the fairway that their owners gave up on them. Lose a few, find a few.  
            It turns out I should have been paying attention to the tees, which golfers regularly leave behind after howling in disgust over a lousy drive.
            Or, you can draw a map of your garden and carefully mark where you've planted what and consult it faithfully next spring. There's probably a computer application that you will help do this. Called "FlowerPlay" or something. Or use the GPS on your smartyphone. (Some of us may never be smart enough for a smart phone.) So far I have to admit I never see people using their smartyphones while gardening.
            Number Two on the to-do list. Cut off the flower stalks when they have finished blooming. For goodness sake, don't cut them off before they have finished blooming, unless you mean to bring them indoors and stick them in water in an attractive vessel suitable for the purpose. I've just let another perfectly good weekend go by without doing exactly that.
            It's the close calls that make "number two" harder than it seems. I have some plants, notably a few snapdragons that I planted a year ago and which pleased my expectations by coming back all on their own and blooming again this summer. But it's not always easy to tell whether they are going to push another few blossoms out of the top of their flower spikes. My advice: cut those old stalks whenever you're good and tired of looking at them and scale your expectations back to that sleek, severe, subdued late summer look.
            The other thing you are likely to do in August is to think about getting some new repeat-bloom or ever-bloom varieties of your perennials. The limitations of this subdued, restricted late summer palette is why gardeners endure close combat with their roses year after year. This brings us to helpful hint number three.
            Three: Clean up fallen rose and peony leaves that can harbor disease over the winter if let them just simmer there on the ground. Rose disease happens. It's as predictable as the midsummer drought. I will now recite the advice for coping with roses in August: remove all the affected leaves first, discard these in a closed container (where the spores can't creep out in the night and infect other plants), and then spray remaining leaves, if you have any left. (OK, I've editorialized a little.) The reason you grow rose bushes is because many fine varieties are truthfully described as ever-blooming. We have some plants that start flowering in late May and keep it up through October. It's hard to find other perennials that can match that production.
            But if you try to follow this very good advice and remove all the "affected" leaves,the ones with with brown or black spots that will soon turn yellow and relentlessly spread the infection to their neighbors before spraying or taking other measures, you stand a good chance of removing all the leaves on your plant and spilling a pint of your own blood in the process.
            So don't put off spraying while you nickel and dime yourself with the spotted leaves. Here are the three widely recommended organic applications to "control" powdery mildew and black spot: RosePharm, Neem Oil, and Serenade.Then concentrate on seeing the rose blossoms and ignoring the bare branches. Chances are your plants will grow back at least some noses.
            So don't hesitate to smell the ever-blooming roses, even in August. But don't get too close them without wearing your thickest gloves.