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The Plant Doctor: Easy tips keep gardens blooming through fall

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Much of the success that gardeners attribute to a hereditary condition known as “green-thumb” syndrome is in realty a combination of luck and a bag full of simple tips.

It is frustrating when gardens planted near your home or garage start off with gusto and end up as “drippy dead” vegetation. The problem probably is the soil.

If your home or garage is made of material such as cement, stucco or plaster, a healthy dose of lime (calcium carbonate) may have leached into the soil during construction. Test the pH of the soil. If it reads in the alkaline, or basic range, then it probably is the cause of early plant demise. Two alternatives are available: allow for a two-foot margin, a so-called no-plant zone, or replace the soil near the building to a depth of 3 feet.

You have replaced the soil and checked the pH, and everything checks out. And yet your plants die off. Time to check the drainage. Regardless of the soil used or type of vegetation, planting in a low spot where water collects after rain is bad news. Soggy soil has insufficient oxygen for plants, is an ideal location for fungus and mold growth and generally is of low fertility. Correct the drainage problem or use the site for a birdbath.

When planting near the street, driveway or sidewalk it is best to consider vegetation that can survive the abuse of traffic, dust, fumes and a host of other miserable conditions. A number of annuals that have adapted to these insulting environmental conditions include marigolds, geraniums, dusty miller and perennials such as sedum and the sepervivumns.

But success is still not at hand. Survey your gardening area. Does it have a great deal of sun, shade, moisture, etc.? Regardless of how adept you are in preparing the planting area, correcting drainage and ensuring the best soil, don’t try to match plants to garden conditions with which they are not able to deal. The best gardener cannot make a sun-loving plant grow in shade or a moisture-lover grow in dry soil. Choosing plants that do well in the conditions you have to offer makes gardening easier and more effective because you are working with nature instead of against it.

Homework done? Now the problem is time. You simply do not have the time to perform the daily chores that ensure a magnificent garden. One suggestion is to select a flower garden that focuses on low-maintenance plants. Some plants that neatly fit into this category include begonias, impatiens, daylilies and salvia, just to name a few. I chose these plants because they are easy to grow, do not require deadheading, watering or fertilizing — in short, little fussing to survive.

If you choose plants carefully, your flower garden can bloom well into the fall. A number of plants such as chrysanthemums, asters, boltonia and sedum are classified as late-season bloomers. Dahlias will begin to bloom in late summer and reach their peak in early fall. Salvia, marigolds, sweet alyssum and numerous other annuals will bloom into the fall — that is, if you remember to deadhead and shear back.

I hope that some of these tips meet your personal needs. Future columns will provide even more thrilling ideas.

Questions or concerns about houseplants or gardening can be forwarded to Harvey.Goodman@att.net.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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