It’s the second week of June and time for second helpings. If you dutifully fertilized your container gardens, hanging baskets and vegetable garden last month, now is the time to give all your hungry plants another ration of plant food. Like leggy teenagers, your annuals, perennials and vegetables are having a growth spurt and crave nutrients. Your roses are so famished for more fertilizer that they feel faint with hunger.
You can use organic plant foods, slow-release plant foods or water-soluble fertilizers that can be poured onto the foliage. Just give your hard-working plants something to eat now if you want to enjoy a beautiful bounty next month. Each brand of fertilizer has their own instructions for best results. Find your glasses, read the fine print and follow the advice on the label. All plants prefer a big meal only after they’ve had a long, stiff drink. If you fertilize dry plants they could get indigestion by gobbling down the plant food much too quickly. This shows up as brown tips and leaf margins.
There are some plants that do well without extra fertilizer and even prefer growing in poor, dry soil.
Plants that are gluttons for punishment – but not fertilizer: Mediterranean herbs, plants with gray foliage and many types of succulents do better in lean soil or one that drains quickly. These plants will feel at ease in sunny rockeries, near cedar and fir trees or in soil that is sandy and rocky with little organic matter.
Bright Blooms – Dull Appetites : Nasturtiums and Ice Plants. Both of these summer-blooming annuals have intense blooms but laid back demands. Nasturtiums thrive in beach-side gardens where the soil is sandy, the air is salty and the gardening a hit or miss affair. Nasturtiums are also one of the easiest plants to grow from seed and fun for kids to plant. June is the perfect month to plant nasturtium seeds as the plants need warm soil and lots of sun to thrive. New varieties of nasturtium include those with variegated white foliage, jewel-toned color mixes, climbing and trailing varieties as well as tidy, compact dwarfs to edge your beds.
Ice plants come in both perennial and annual forms and have naturalized in parts of California giving us hundreds of varieties to chose from. In Western Washington these succulents need a hot and sunny site and must have well-drained soil. Mulch around young plants with rocks or gravel and keep compost away from these brightly blooming groundcovers with the daisy-like blooms. Ice plants spill over the sides of a window box or container garden up against a sun-drenched wall and never wilt in the hot sun. Such a cool plant for a hot spot.
Go Gray gracefully in the perennial garden: Plants with gray foliage are naturally drought, deer, slug and disease resistant but they also adapt to poor soil. It is the tiny hairs that cover the foliage that give plants a gray or silver sheen and this adaptation helps drought-resistant plants like these trap morning dew for moisture and make do with less fertilizing. Like all plants tolerant of poor soil, they will respond with delight to improved soil and light feedings. They do have one request – they must have good drainage. Wet feet turns gray plants into black mush.
For more gray than a game of canasta in a rest home, add the silver foliage of artemsias and fuzzy lamb‘s ear, the tall and lean lavatera, and any of the fragrant lavenders, santolinas and silver curry varieties. Sedums, herbs and silver-hued thymes are other silver plants that won’t tarnish your reputation should you decide to ignore them after planting.
Silver Annuals – No Containing the Enthusiasm when you Add these to Pots: Light up your container gardens and flower beds with the metallic sheen and foil for other colors of the gray-leaved Dusty Miller. Looking for something new? Go searching for waterfalls and find the spectacular new annual called ‘Silver Falls’ Dichondra.” This heat-loving vine will last only until frost but in my garden it spilled over the edge of a pot in a three-foot long cascades of shimmering, silver color, falling to the ground like a waterfall then rooting with enthusiasm into a rocky, gravel pathway. Don’t worry about ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra taking over your garden. This tender plant will disappear with the cold weather.
Shrubs with silver foliage such as the sun-loving rock roses or blue-gray junipers will also thrive on neglect and grow large and prosper. Nice to know that there are plenty of plants for our climate with small appetites so they won’t hold it against you if they never get an invitation to dinner.
June is the month to fertilize your hungry plants – or to add a few lean, tough and totally independent plants to your garden and then sit back and relax.
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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, www.binettigarden.com.
Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.