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BARBARA LEACH: Betwixt and Between

How’s your garden doing?  This is the time of year that my mom used to call “the betwixt and between.”  Most perennials have gone by and the fall bloomers have not kicked in yet.  Many things got scorched in July/August and need to be cut back to clean them up and, in some cases, get another round of bloom.

Roses appreciate a haircut and feed now to stimulate a good fall flowering.  While we were retreating to the air conditioning the wiregrass, crabgrass, sour grass, creeping red sorrel, spotted spurge, purslane, poke weed and amaranth were playing and dancing all over the garden, along with various tree seedlings the squirrels planted.

A top priority on some of these evenings or mornings that you can stand to be outside is to get them up to keep them from going to seed.  If your knees hurt, try a vigorous clip with a sharpened hoe to cut them off, since most are annuals.  Don’t let them lie because even if you think the seed is not mature enough to germinate—it always finds a way!

The early summer vegetables have waned.  Most of us have pulled out our early beans and squash and planted new and the cucumbers are looking a little ratty so it is time to think about putting in most of the fall greens and brassicas.  Soon we will find starts of cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc. ready for planting.  It is still a little hot for spinach to germinate well, but lettuce is up in a few days.

So what else can we do when things look a little beat up and tired this time of year to brighten things up?

This is the time of year that annuals prove their worth in the garden.  It does not take many to make a splash here and there leading the eye around the garden.  Either plan for them in the spring or, clients are telling me, they are still finding a few at the nurseries.  Consider plopping them in where you have barren places.  Having foliage cover helps hold the weeds down and the color ads depth and definition that foliage alone cannot provide.

Think about texture, along with your color selections.  A friend of mine quietly shared that he had found a new appreciation for cosmos.  Their ferny foliage and bright glossy colors belie the telephone-pole-like stems they wave above.  The old varieties were tall, but many newer ones come in all different heights.

All America Selections, the organization that trials plants to screen for the best of the best, has some suggestions from days gone by.  They encourage us to try some of the plants our (great?) grandparents may have used.   Who among us does not have fond memories of something we grew up with?

Foremost in grandma’s pollinator garden was probably zinnias.  That’s right folks, pollinator gardens are not a new idea, grandma just didn’t call it that.  It was also her “cutting garden”.  AAS suggests a zinnia from 1942 called Royal Purple.  It is known for its strong 3’ stems and mildew resistance.  Nasturtiums were a must-have for ease of germination, warm color and even as an edible garnish.

Nasturtiums come into their own as the weather cools and that bold ground-covering leaf helps keep the weeds at bay.  How about one from 1935 called Scarlet Gleam?  Spider flower is known for being a tough and drought-tolerant plant with a delicate look, interesting foliage and an ability to reseed freely while others will not.  The seedlings are easy to spot at an early age and rogue out the unwanted ones. Cleome Pink Queen was a winner in 1942 and still is today!

Cockscomb or celosia is another annual that shines in the heat and humidity.  It also reseeds.  Toreador is a crested type from 1955.  It reminds me of brains.  No annual bed would be complete without a few marigolds and one of my all-time favorites is Queen Sophia, from 1979.  This diminutive bi-color is a knockout.  Try a few of these or other annuals for a pick-me up betwixt and between.

Barbara Leach

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