Early summer's blast of blooms is long over, but it's not too late to create something spectacular in the yard. Lorraine Flanigan digs in and refuses to let the last half of the season go to waste.
To freshen the look of spring- and early-summer-flowering perennials now past their prime, cut back the browning flowers of lady's mantle (Alchemilla), which also helps keep self-seeding in check, and prune off any tatty leaves. Catmints (Nepeta) come to life after a vigorous shearing (by about half to two-thirds), becoming more compact and often reblooming later in the season. This technique also works for hardy geraniums that have developed long, straggly stems after flowering. To keep the garden tidy, make a daily habit of plucking off the spent blooms of summer-flowering perennials, including phlox, daylilies and red hot pokers (Kniphofia).
Window boxes, planters and other container gardens can outgrow their pots by midsummer. Trim vigorous sprawlers, such as sweet potato vines, trailing plectranthus and silvery helichrysum, to expose the underlying containers. Cut back any long, leggy stems of petunias and pansies by about half to encourage new branches to form and to reinvigorate flowering. By midseason, the roots of these annuals have invaded much of the soil in their pots, sopping up every drop of moisture that flows their way, so it's doubly important to keep containers well-watered – once and sometimes twice a day.
During the hot, dry days of summer, our first tendency is to hose down the garden. A better technique – and one that saves both water and time – is to apply a summer mulch. Shredded cedar, composted pine mulch or chopped, dried leaves (if you have them), applied in a shallow two- to five-centimetre layer over the soil surface locks moisture in the ground, protects it from drying winds and moderates soil temperatures, making growing conditions less stressful for plants. To conserve moisture already in the soil, the best time to mulch is following a rainfall.
Add new plants
Planting at the height of summer somehow seems wrong – and it is the wrong time of year for transplanting – but done with care, planting container-grown perennials and shrubs can fill in gaps and add colour. Right now, nurseries have a good selection of late-summer and fall-blooming plants, such as asters, Japanese anemones and sedums. Before purchasing, check pots for good root systems. Choose an overcast day for planting, and water the plants well before placing them into the ground. Add a handful of compost to the bottom of the planting hole, and then fill it to the rim with water, allowing it to drain. After planting, finish the job with a summer mulch.
Give it an edge
The final touch to midsummer garden grooming? Give your beds a neat, clean edge. Using an edger tool, work your way around the borders, shaping a shallow channel to separate the beds from pathways and lawns, framing your pretty-as-a-picture garden.