COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: A little work now will reap fall benefits

Palm tree alert! Do not cover tops of palm trees or wrap them in the winter! In an update to the earlier article I wrote about growing palm trees in western Washington, I have heard from a local grower and expert who claims wrapping or covering your palm trees will only cause fungal infections. He suggests just fertilizing palm trees twice a year and leaving them alone. For more information go to


The middle of August is the time to take a stand, rise from your lawn chair and tend to routine maintenance. What you do now in the garden will determine how your landscape will look all autumn.

At the top of the to-do list is deadheading and fertilizing summer-blooming annuals. Your geraniums, petunias and other bloomers will flower until October if you remove their faded flowers and snip back their leggy branches. Then give your annual plants a shot of liquid fertilizer to quickly encourage new growth and new buds. Next consider your lawn. Instead of daily water that keeps a lawn green but lazy, switch to watering your lawn less often but more slowly, allowing the water to soak deep into the top 2 feet of soil. One way to get the water to penetrate the soil is to set the sprinkler for 10 minutes, then turn it off for an hour. The magic of capillary action will then draw the second application of water down deep into the soil and the grass roots will learn to follow.

August is not the time to fertilize roses, vines or tender perennials that may not survive the winter if they put on new growth this late in the summer. August is not the time to get snippy with wisteria, hardy fuchsias, rhodies or azaleas. Instead you want to encourage trees and shrubs to start going dormant as the days grow shorter. Pruning and feeding always stimulates growth.

Q. I planted two Hawthorn trees three years ago. They looked OK at first but this summer almost all the leaves have fallen from the trees. They also have never bloomed. Is there anything I can do to fix these trees or should I just get rid of them? P.P., Olympia

A. I vote for the shovel solution when it comes to hawthorn trees in western Washington. This means to dig them out and consider your loss a learning lesson. Hawthorns have lovely blooms and fine foliage in climates that get less rain, but in our area they almost always suffer from leaf blight and drop leaves all summer in their struggle to survive. Not only are your leafless hawthorns guilty of looking ugly but they even refuse to bloom. Life is too short to put up with ugly plants or trees and shrubs that need spraying and pampering to keep them healthy. Consider the many varieties of Japanese maples, smoke trees or cedars that thrive in our climate to replace your haughty hawthorns.

Q. I have tried planting a second crop of lettuce, spinach and kale in my vegetable garden as you suggested in an earlier column. It seems to me the seedlings are getting too hot in the summer sun and the new leaves look scorched. What am I doing wrong? F., e-mail, Kent

A. Summer planting is often a shady deal and requires a bit of temporary covering to get the young upstarts off to a cool start. Poke some sticks into the ground around your newly-seeded beds then drape cheese cloth or shade cloth fabric over the sticks so the soil remains shaded but air can still circulate. Be sure to keep the soil moist as the seeds sprout and a second crop begins. Once the cooler days of autumn arrive in mid-September you can remove the shade cloth and enjoy a second spring as you harvest lettuce, spinach and other leafy crops until snow fall.

Q. Quick question on coleus plants. Does one have to remove the flowering spikes? What about hosta plants that send up flowers that then dry up and turn ugly? I am a new gardener and love your column. N.G., Yelm

A. Quick answer – it is up to you. Any plant with lovely leaves such as coleus and hosta will look better if you remove the flowering spikes as soon as they appear so the plant can put all its energy into producing the fancy foliage. But some gardeners enjoy the flowers on coleus plants and hosta and leave them be. One of the joys of gardening is that you can putter about on a summer day snipping off faded blooms and yellowing leaves and then see how the plant responds. A general rule of green thumb is to remove anything dead, diseased or damaged no matter what time of year.

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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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by Marianne Binetti.




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