The end of summer doesn’t have to mean the end of beautiful blooms. These four tips can help you extend enjoyment of your home’s horticultural highlights.
1. “Take Your Vitamins”
My favorite local nursery gardening guru swears by a regular dose of “vitamins” to keep annuals blooming longer. He says fertilizing annuals every seven days ensures they will bloom until the first freeze.
Fertilizer is often called “plant food,” but that is really a misnomer. The food our plants consume is sunlight and water which they make energy with through photosynthesis. Fertilizer is more like a multi-vitamin that provides added nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as a variety of micronutrients. Nitrogen promotes green growth; phosphorus aids in flowering and fruiting; potassium contributes to overall vitality and health.
Since phosphorus is key to those desired colorful blooms, you want to select a fertilizer with a higher amount of it. Fertilizers vary in the amount of each nutrient contained. The NPK number is used on all fertilizer packaging to indicate the percentage of each nutrient in Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium order. The fertilizer my guru recommends is Bloom Boost which has an NPK ratio of 10-30-20; the middle number indicates this brand contains a lot of phosphorus. Whatever type of fertilizer you choose, be careful and read the instructions. Where fertilizer is concerned, too much of a good thing is not a good thing and can harm your plant.
2. Remove Withered Blooms
This process is called “deadheading” and it also helps annuals continue to flourish because it interrupts the seed reproduction process. If the flower is removed before the seed drops from the plant, it will produce another flower. Deadheading is also recommended to do weekly. Simply pull down gently on the spent flower until it pops off. Some annuals will actually die if the dead blooms are not removed. Perennials benefit from deadheading, too.
3. Examine Your Roots
By the end of summer, it is possible your potted plants may have outgrown their containers and may not be blooming or flourishing because their roots are too cramped in the soil. This is called “root bound.” Roots grow an incredible amount. If you leave a plant in its container for too long, it can actually suffocate itself.
Signs of being root bound are foliage decay, roots peeking out from drainage holes, poor water retention and, in severe cases, impermeable top soil.
To investigate the roots, water the plant and run a knife between the soil and pot to loosen. Tip it upside down and grasp the plant at the base, gently wiggling it free. If the roots are thick, discolored, entangled or molded to the shape of the container, you will want to remove the unhealthy roots and can safely take away 1/3 of them without harming the plant. Bright white roots are healthy, keep those. Loosen all the roots, and then replant in a larger pot. It may take a little time for the plant to reestablish because it will focus on root growth first.
4. Plan Your Perennials
Perennials grow back every year so planting them is a bigger decision and requires more research about what grows well in what conditions. But if you plan your perennials well, you can have a beautiful blooming garden from spring until fall.
Many perennials have short bloom periods (3 weeks); some bloom for 12 weeks with regular deadheading (viola, coreopsis, Stella de Oro daylilies are some examples). Combine them with annuals to fill in with color when perennials aren’t blooming. Research what perennial plants’ bloom times are for your area and have fun making a list and calendar then creating a design that will be pleasing to the eyes and compliment your landscape.
When perennials stop blooming, trim back the stem to encourage blooms next season.
Don’t mourn the end of summer yet! Try these simple ways to extend bloom time and keep your garden beautiful for longer.