COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Don’t panic ridding your garden of moss

The second week of July is your last chance to pinch back fall-blooming mums or to shorten up lanky sedum ‘Autumn Joy” plants to keep these autumn-blooming perennials from growing too tall.

The second week of July is your last chance to pinch back fall-blooming mums or to shorten up lanky sedum ‘Autumn Joy” plants to keep these autumn-blooming perennials from growing too tall. You should also pull up any pea plants after you harvest the last of the pea pods but before the vines turn yellow. Mid-summer is a good time to give your roses another shot of fertilizer and side dress hungry vegetables with a slow release or organic plant food by applying the fertilizer down the sides of the planting rows. Try not to get the foliage of your roses, tomatoes and other vegetables wet if you need to water and especially avoid working around the bean plants right after a rain. Wet foliage is a breeding ground for molds, mildews and other diseases and damaging the surface of a leaf or stem can allow entry for these fungus among us.

Q. What to do about the moss that has overtaken my lawn, is growing on my plants and soil and thriving on my porch steps? T.T., Tacoma

A. First, relax. Moss does not kill your plants or ruin your soil. It is just an opportunist that moves in when you provide a shaded, moist area. To keep moss from your lawn you must aerate, improve the soil with a topdressing and add lime to make the soil less acid at least once a year. If you don’t like the look of moss on your soil cover it up with a mulch of bark chips or soil-improving mulch of compost. The moss will die beneath the mulch and add more organic matter to your soil. Do not let sprinklers hit your trees and shrubs if you don’t like the fuzzy green moss and gray lichens that cling to the branches; but again, these volunteers are not hurting your plants. Moss has become quite the trendy plant in the most elite gardens around the world. There are even moss nurseries on the East Coast and in parts of Europe the favored centerpiece in the finest boutiques and restaurants are not flowers, but plates of moss instead. Here in western Washington the rest of the world is green with envy – of our beautiful moss.

Q. How often should I water my tomato plants? R. e-mail

A. It all depends. Plants in containers need more water than those growing in the ground and loose, sandy soil dries out sooner than soil that is rich with organic matter. What tomatoes need is soil that is kept consistently moist but not wet. Do not let the plants dry out completely or water so often that they rot. The best rule of green thumb is to use your bare finger. Poke it into the soil near the roots of the plants and water when the top one inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Add enough water so that it runs from the bottom of the pot or sinks into the soil at least 12 inches. In our cool summer climate some vegetables won’t need any extra water until the month of August.

Q. I have a window box on the north side of my house. For years I grew ferns in this shady spot but now I have decided to go with some color. What flowers do you suggest for such a dark area? P.V., e-mail

A. For nonstop color in the deep shade I love non-stop begonias. These are the begonias with large, rose-like blooms not the more common fibrous begonias with small flowers. The Non-Stop Begonias grow from bulb-like tubers that can be saved indoors each fall and replanted in the spring. The large leaves and rounded blooms contrast nicely with lobelia and colorful coleus plants that also thrive in deep shade. These begonias come in rich shades of orange, peach, red, yellow and clear bright white. The perfect colors to combine with the tropical brights of the new and improved coleus.

Begonias, coleus, impatiens and lobelia – these are the colorful kings of the dark side.

For more gardening information, Marianne Binetti can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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