COMPLETE HOME GARDENER: Time for Phase Two in the garden

The end of June is time for “Phase two” in the garden. The first phase of color from spring bulbs and early perennials is over. Clean up the faded, brown foliage from bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths and make room for some summer color. Deadhead the faded flowers from the first flush of rose blooms and pick off any past-their-prime blooms from geraniums, verbena and African daisy. These three have stiff stems that support their flowers, so reach into the plant and snap off the stem as well as the flower head by bending it away from the trunk of the plant. If you have pansies you really have to snip off the faded flowers every few days. Once your violas and pansies go to seed they become weak and start acting like – well, like pansies.

Q. Do I have to deadhead all the spent blooms on my giant rhododendrons? They are huge and it is my first time owning a house. I can barely find time to mow the lawn and weed the beds so I really will be mad if you say I have to get up on a ladder and cut off all the old rhodie blooms! T., e-mail

A. Remain calm with your feet on the ground. Rhododendrons do not have to be plucked clean of faded blooms. It is just a way to clean up and pamper your shrubs so they can put more energy into leaf production instead of seed production. Sounds like your rhododendrons don’t need any encouragement to grow larger. You could use a lightweight bamboo rake to claw off those faded blooms and don’t worry if you knock down a few of the new growth sprouts while you’re at it. These are called “rhododendron candles” and if you snuff them out now it will encourage your shrubs to grow more compact and bushy rather than tall. Or you can just let nature do the job – there are no rhododendron police around making sure you deadhead.

Q. My rhododendrons and azaleas are done blooming. How far back can they be pruned? P.P., Puyallup

A. Pruning after blooming is the general rule of green thumb and you can go drastic (and ugly) by cutting them back to mere stumps or artfully shorten or remove one third of the branches each year. Azaleas respond well to shearing of the new growth after they bloom. Use hedge clippers to remove up to three inches from every branch. Even if you leave some bare, leafless twigs, rhodies and azaleas can resprout and repair the pruning wounds.

Q. I live near Point Defiance Park. I notice that this is the first year my favorite rhododendron – the color changing “unique” rhodie – hardly bloomed at all. The plants look healthy with new growth. I’d appreciate your comments. M.W., Tacoma

A. Blame it on the cold June weather last year. Now is when rhodies, azaleas and camellias think about setting buds. They will make foliage instead of flowers if the early summer weather stays too cold or if their roots dry out in August and September. These are shallow-rooted plants and not heavy feeders so don’t think you can fertilize them into flower. Warm June nights and August rainfall creates bountiful rhododendron blooms.


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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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