More Success with Flower Plantings

Question: I would like to follow your suggestion to plant more flowers. I have not always been successful in picking the best varieties for a particular situation or combining flower kinds and colors. Could you give me some suggestions?

Answer: Begin by selecting a location where some color can be viewed frequently as you arrive home or view from a window or patio. Shrubs make a good background, so perhaps a bed in front of shrubs. If it is not at least 3 feet wide, take out some grass and make it wider. Avoid making narrow strip beds along a sidewalk or driveway.

Till or spade in 2 or 3 inches of bark dust, compost, peat moss or other organic amendment. This is an investment which pays big dividends in improved growth and better water penetration,

Select a limited number of kinds and colors. A single color is often the most effective. For 2 or 3 colors, choose shades of a single color such as pink, blue or purple or choose complimentary colors on the color wheel such as blue and orange or purple and yellow. White (and usually light yellow) can be combined with any color.

Impatiens, begonias and pansies are three of the best annuals for shady locations. Perennial alyssum, astilbe, columbine, heuchera, bleeding heart and hosta are some of the most widely available shade tolerant perennial flowers.

For east or sunny north exposures, lobelia, poppies and snapdragons grow well. Perennials such as delphinium, foxglove, lupine and rock cress also prefer cool locations.

Heat tolelrant flowers are the best choice for full sun and south and west exposures. Our most popular annuals such as alyssum, petunia, marigold, geranium and zinnia prefer these areas. Heat tolerant perennials include daylily, baby’s breath and oriental poppy. All of these flowers need at least 5 hours of direct sun a day. They can tolerate reflected heat from buildings and paved areas as well.

Check labels for height, width and sun/shade preference. If you are not sure, ask someone at a full service nursery or garden store or check on line or in a book. Many books on flowers have tables listing varieties by shade tolerance, height and other qualities.

Plant taller kinds in back or in the middle of a bed which can be viewed from more than one side. Allow enough space between plants and layers. A 3 foot bed only has enough space for 2 kinds.

Plant in clusters rather than single file rows. Odd numbers (3, 5, 7) are more attractive to the eye. Zig-zag your plants for a more natural look.

Apply a long lasting fertilizer such as Osmocote for season-long performance. Apply a weed preventer to reduce weed problems. (See my Mid-May newsletter on weed preventers. You can always view previous newsletters at

Prune Azaleas, Rhododendrons and other Spring Blooming Shrubs Right After Bloom

Azaleas and Rhododendrons set new flower buds for next spring starting in mid to late summer. By pruning soon, you will have maximum bloom next year. You have probably noticed plants with sparse or one sided bloom that were pruned too late last year. Rhododendrons and azaleas should never be pruned with shears or power clippers. This causes unnatural thick growth and ruins the natural shape of the plants.

I am often asked if it is necessary to remove old dead flowers from rhododendrons and azaleas. It does improve plant appearance, but it makes no difference to plant growth. After a month or so the old flowers are covered by new vegetative growth.

How to Prune Lilacs

Lilacs grow so vigorously in the Pacific Northwest that they eventually become trees instead of shrubs. June is the time to prune lilacs. If you would like to turn your lilac back into a shrub, this is how to do it. There are 3 ways to accomplish it.

The drastic one year approach

Prune all major branches down to within one foot of the ground. Small branches coming directly out of the ground which are less than an inch in diameter can remain. Leave all sprouts which are in the immediate vicinity of the shrub base. Sprouts outside this area can be removed. Any remaining branches more than 2 feet tall should be pruned by half. One month after the original pruning shorten new growth by about half. This will cause branching so that you get a full shrub at the base. After 2 months, any growth which reaches more than 4 feet in height should be shortened again to approximately 4 feet. Do not shorten all branches to the exact same height. Some variation looks more natural. You will not get any flowers the year following this drastic pruning.

The 3 year approach

Prune 1/3 of major branches to within a foot of the ground. If you have 5 or 6 major branches, prune 2 on different sides. In June of 2014 you will again prune 1/3 of major branches. The last remaining major branches will be pruned in June 2015. Leave all sprouts which are in the immediate vicinity of the shrub base. Sprouts outside this area can be removed. Shorten all major branches which are not removed to a height of 4 to 5 feet. All rapidly growing branches which reach more than 6 feet should be shortened to 6 feet during the summer. You will have fewer flowers next spring, but they will be at a height where you can enjoy them more.

The long term approach

Prune a single major branch to within one foot of the ground. Do this every year in June until all major branches have been removed. Then follow the instructions for the 3 year approach. You will have a more normal amount of flowers next spring but they will be better placed.

Prune lilacs every year in June to keep them as compact shrubs

Yearly pruning is necessary to keep lilacs at a height of about 6 feet. Shorten all branches which reach a height of more than 6 feet. Shorten side branches in the upper part of the shrub so the plant is tapered in toward the top.

Remove Water Sprouts on Recently Pruned Trees Now

June is a critical time to remove those fast growing vertical sprouts that occur after trees are pruned in the fall, winter, or early spring. This is particularly true for fruit trees which have been heavily thinned so light can reach the lower fruiting branches. Sprouts can be quickly and easily snapped off with your fingers when they are soft and flexible. Snapping is preferable to cutting, because it removes tissue which can regrow another water sprout, sometimes in the same growing season. If you wait until fall or winter to remove those sprouts, new ones will grow to replace them next spring. Stop the sprout cycle now. And if you do happen to have more new water sprouts later, snap them off while they are young and soft.

Spray and Thin Apple Trees

If you want apples without worm holes, regular biweekly spraying with a fruit tree spray is necessary. If you do not have a lot of untreated apple trees nearby, you can probably protect most apples from worms by hanging codling moth traps in the trees. It takes about 3 traps for a medium sized apple tree. Codling moth traps contain a sex attractant which traps the male moths. Without fertilization, the female moth’s eggs are sterile.

Early June is also a good time to begin thinning apples to increase fruit size and quality. By looking carefully as you thin, you can often eliminate apples which have already been entered by a worm. The holes are very apparent while fruit is small.

Apples have clusters of five flowers in a group. If all five flowers are well pollinated, they may all develop to maturity. More typically, three or four will continue to develop while one or two will remain small and fall off. The tree can only produce enough food to develop one large apple per cluster. If two are allowed to develop, most fruit will be medium in size. When three or more mature, they are generally all small, unless there are no other nearby fruit clusters within 6 inches.

In thinning, I generally only leave one fruit per cluster and remove the others. If there is more than six inches to the next cluster I leave two fruits. Leave the largest apple in the cluster, which is usually the center one. Of course those which have worm holes or other damage should be removed even if they are the largest so a better quality fruit can develop

Plant Flowers Between Bulb Leaves

Annual flowers such as petunias and impatiens can be planted in between daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. As soon as bulb leaves start to turn brown, they have completed their job of forming a new bulb for next year. Just cut them off or wait until they are completely brown and pull them out. If some of your bulbs have been overgrown by shrub branches, now is the time to dig the bulbs and move them to a new location.

Roses Need Repeat Treatments to Prevent Leaf Diseases

My favorite pesticide for roses (most other plants) is Neem Oil. It is a natural, organic product which controls all 3 major rose leaf diseases: black spot, mildew and rust. It also controls insects. Applications at two week intervals are needed to protect new growth. Bayer Complete Rose Care contains Tebuconizole for leaf diseases. It is applied less frequently as a soil drench.