Spring-like weather hung around longer than usual this year, but that’s all changed. The Dog Star is back in town.
Sirius, part of the constellation Canis major, is the brightest star in our summer sky. It was called the “Dog Star” by early Egyptians to honor their god Osiris. For 20 days beginning in late July, Sirius rises and sets with the sun. The ancients believed the star was generating heat of its own, adding to already sizzling temperatures, and giving us the term “dog days of summer.”
Gardeners aren’t the only ones wilting. Our container plantings and hanging baskets have been baking on “high,” and the season is far from over. Plant grooming should be done throughout the summer, but if you haven’t kept up with regular deadheading, trimming, watering and fertilizing, it’s never too late to give your plants a rejuvenating spa treatment.
Armed with pruners and a cool beverage, a haircut for flowers and foliage is the first order of business. Cascading annuals like sweet potato vine, bacopa, lantana, million bells, petunia, verbena and lobelia can be cut back by a third. If they’re really sad and leggy, you can cut back by half. Do the same for taller annuals like coleus, zinnia, marigold, cosmos, salvia, and geranium. Trust me. A radical shearing will bring on a flush of new growth faster than it takes your bangs to grow out.
Plants growing in containers depend on regular watering and can suffer dramatically when you forget for even a day. And you may have some potted plants that seem chronically wilted, even though you supply them with plenty of water.
If you take a closer look, it could be that a gap has formed between the edges of the dry soil mass and the pot wall. Most of the water rushes through that gap and out the bottom of the pot, with little being absorbed by the dry roots. Compounding the problem is the fact that re-wetting potting mix once it dries out and shrinks isn’t easy.
For smaller containers, find a tub big enough to hold the pot and fill it with water. Dunk your dry pots inside. When the surface of the soil inside each pot is visibly wet (this could take hours or even overnight), remove them from the standing water. You’ll notice that the moist soil has expanded, filling the gap around the inside edge of the pot, making them easier to water effectively.
For large containers too big to dunk, revive them by watering from the bottom. Place them in a large saucer, and keep adding water as it’s absorbed. Dry soil quickly wicks up water through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, thoroughly saturating the parched root ball.
As long as the weather remains hot and dry, be generous when watering. It’s hard to over-water pots if they have proper drainage holes and fast-draining potting mix. Never underestimate how much a large planter, filled with thirsty plants, needs on a hot day. Water early, and re-check later. In weather like this, pots might need a second or third helping of water.
By now, your container plants have developed mature root systems, and if you added a timed-release fertilizer at planting in May or June, it’s likely long gone. Add more to carry plants through the rest of the growing season. Or start adding a soluble balanced fertilizer to the irrigation water. Just remember that fertilizers dissolve in water, and a portion is lost in the water that drains from the pot. Many nurseries keep their containers and hanging baskets looking lavish by using dilute soluble fertilizers every time they irrigate, or at full strength every week or two.
When you get to the point when plants in containers and hanging baskets can’t be revived, put them out of their misery. There is nothing more depressing than a container full of dead plants. Forgive yourself and move on. By the end of August, fresh new fall arrivals like ornamental kale, pansies and mums will be available and can be tucked in wherever you have a space.
If you have the energy for a Dog Days project, save some of the 4- to 5-inch tip cuttings from the haircuts you gave. Some annuals, especially coleus and sweet potato vine, are easy to root and can be used as replacements for plants that are frizzled. Stand the stems in clean water in a cool, bright place and check for roots. They seem to appear almost overnight and your cuttings will soon be ready to transplant.
Also — Thousands of Valley residents work long hours outside despite extreme weather, day in and day out, in service to our community and economy. Thank you.