Good morning. Well, here we are on the first day of June. I don’t know if this happens to you, but I wait so long for warm weather and then it seems to just go so fast you lose it. I thought I still had a couple of weeks left in May. Oh well, at least the flowers are blooming and the sun is warm and the black flies really haven’t been that bad.

I want to thank everyone who responded to the question about Mimulus in the last column. Between then and now, I lost my computer hard drive, so if you sent a message and did not get a reply, I am sorry. Please be sure to try again if you had a question. I got several messages that contained Web addresses so I could access the information and I appreciate everyone who took the time to do that.

I also got a great reply from Becky Burke that I will share with all of you. Burke said, “The common name is Monkey Flower as one can see the face of a grinning ape in each blossom. They are actually in the same family as snapdragons and turtleheads, the Scrophulariacae family. They like moist soils and can even tolerate an inch or so of standing water. They prefer dabbled shade especially in warmer gardens. As we get toward fall, the plant begins to set seed. To encourage more blooms, cut or pinch the plant back to central rosettes of leaves. Fertilizing with a water soluble plant food is something this plant likes.”

She went on to explain that she had over wintered some for a neighbor and repotted several babies in March. She recommends putting babies out of the direct sun and keeping them in cooler temperatures.

Burke also recommends the book, “Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens” by Wayne Winterrowd. It contains great info on both annuals and even some house plants you might use in the garden. My thanks go out to Burke for this really good information.

I have received several dozen e-mails about lilacs. ‘Tis the season, I guess, as they are exploding all around and filling the air with their wonderful scent. Most of the e-mails I have gotten, unfortunately, are about lilacs that aren’t bursting with blossoms. So, here you go for those folks having a problem.

Lilacs must have full sun. That means at least six hours per day. Many of us plant shrubs and 10 years later are not paying attention. The trees may have grown up or structures changed and that plant that was in full sun isn’t any longer. So, rule number one is to check the sun the plant gets. If it does not get enough, it will need to be moved or, I guess, you could cut a few trees. It does seem easier, though, to just move the bush.

Lilacs require ordinary soil and watering. Ordinary, however, does not mean heavy clay or sand. So, if you have either of those, improving the soil is important. Lilacs like lime, especially in Maine. Lime tends to counteract acidic soils, and thanks to the coal-fired generation plants in the Midwest, we certainly have acidic soil.

I know many of you put lime on your lawns each spring, so it is easy enough to put some around the lilacs. If you can work it into the soil a bit, that would be good, but if you can’t, just try to put it on before rain is expected or put the sprinkler onto the plants. The water works the lime into the soil.

Lilacs also need to be pruned. If the bush is small, you can do this by cutting the spent blooms and just lightly pruning the end of the canes. If this is an old and/or large bush, heavier pruning would be recommended. My rule is cut the youngest stalks by one-third, half of the oldest stalks by two-thirds and the remaining and oldest stalks to the ground.

If the bush is not terribly overgrown, this works. If the bush has not been tended and not pruned fairly regularly, heavier pruning needs to happen. Most of the books say – and mind you I haven’t done this – you can cut the whole thing to the ground to rejuvenate it. This seems rather drastic to me, but I guess it depends on the bush and your courage.

It is my opinion that the most important ability when growing lilacs is patience. Some lilacs will literally not settle in and bear large numbers of flowers for three to five years. But then, all good things come to those who wait and vases of lilacs filling the house are a really good thing!

Speaking of pruning, I had an e-mail today asking why forsythia bushes were not blooming in profusion. The answer to this one is like the lilacs – they must be pruned.

If you notice, the brightest forsythias are those that have been literally cut into hedges or other shapes. That is because most bloom on new wood.

This is the right time to prune forsythia since their blossoms have just passed. You prune them right after they bloom so they have the rest of the growing season to grow new branches that will bloom next spring. Doing it in August or September isn’t going to help.

Cut the oldest shoots to the ground and trim others using the one-third, two-thirds rule like lilacs. If they are young plants, prune more lightly. Make sure you have sharp loppers when you do any of this pruning. Dull blades will damage the canes, and allow water and diseases to enter the plants. Always cut branches on a slant and make sure the slant of the cut faces down not up. A cut branch that faces up collects rain water and that is not good.

And while we are on the task of pruning, next up will be the weigelas. They are like lilacs and forsythia. They need sun, ordinary soil but will tolerate poor, dry soil and hot summers, and they need to be pruned for bloom.

Immediately after bloom, prune for shape. This usually takes care of it. If it needs renewal, you can cut old shoots to the ground. If you don’t have a weigela, I would recommend them. They are tough and trouble free and make beautiful specimen plants. Mine is about 8 feet tall, and because it was planted near a huge oak, has grown a bit tipped.

When it blooms, it looks like a pink waterfall for several weeks. They came out with new miniature weigelas two or three years ago that grow about three feet high and wide. There is one called “Wine and Roses” that has both dark and light pink blossoms, and works very nicely in one of my perennial beds.

So sharpen those pruning shears now for more blossoms next spring!

Until next time, watch for the June bugs and butterflies, get those dahlia bulbs out of the cellar and into the ground, go to the local farm and get some locally-produced greens and veggies for a picnic in your garden, and most of all, enjoy the sunshine!

Happy gardening!

Green Tip

Before you know it, whether you grow flowers or veggies, you are going to need to stake some plants and tie them with something. Well, one of the best things is old pantyhose. They don’t damage the stalks of plants, have a great deal of give to them, don’t disintegrate in the rain and blend in very nicely within the greenery. So, go through that drawer and find the ruined ones that you have no reason to keep anyway and put them to use. You can cut each pair into several ties. Remember to reuse, recycle and return – this planet is the only one we have!

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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