Charlene Schneider couldn't decide this week whether to give her garden another drink of water or just let it go.
"I've still got a lot of stuff that looks nice," she said. "Then I see this little lone bee or butterfly," and out comes the hose. "I want to keep it alive for them."
Charlene is one of many Wichita gardeners who has a success story to tell from the past summer. Despite a jolt of hot, dry weather that was particularly shocking following a couple of relatively cool, very moist years, some plants rose to the challenge and shone.
One of them was the Vista Bubblegum petunia, grown in cascades outside two entrances to the Extension Education Center at 21st and Ridge Road. Charlene is in charge of the master-gardener crew that does the grounds plantings, and she found success with petunias where she'd only found failure before.
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The master gardeners started with raised beds and filled them with potting soil and compost. To that was added 10-6-4 slow-release fertilizer at planting time, along with SoilMoist water-holding polymers, because there's no drip irrigation available at the planting sites. One of the beds got too much SoilMoist, and "we had a bed of snot the first two times it rained," Charlene said, laughing. If you've ever used SoilMoist, you know that adding water to the polymers creates a jelly-like substance that froths out of a pot if you use too much.
One bed also got too much Blooming & Rooting fertilizer (10-50-10) and bloomed itself out earlier than the other one. Once that happened the master gardeners cut the petunias back to the basal growth, "and it came back with a vengeance," Charlene said. Three weeks ago the other bed bloomed itself out and was cut back. "I'm hoping we get one more big flush before it freezes," Charlene said.
The petunias got watered periodically but not what Charlene would call normally. Sometimes they went three weeks between waterings. But the beds are surrounded by concrete, so the soil stayed wet. Nonetheless, those of us who have been stymied by petunias know that if they're wet, they often rot. But the Vista Bubblegum "appears to be pretty drought-tolerant and didn't mind the wet," Charlene said. "This Vista Series is absolutely wonderful."
While the master gardeners added slow-release fertilizer at planting time, Les Broadstreet, a retired Wichita photographer who now lives in Marion, took the Osmocote's promise on the label "Guaranteed not to burn" as a license to ratchet up the dosage.
Les, who was a professional photographer for 70 years and lived in Wichita for 45, has always loved gardening as a hobby and as therapy. He and his wife, Berniece, now live at the St. Luke Living Center in Marion. This spring he noticed some amaranthus volunteer plants near the building. Once he saw the no-burn promise on the Osmocote, he "overfertilized two of the amaranthus," he says. "In just a few days those two shot up, so I gave them more fertilizer. By County Fair time, one was 7 feet and one was 8 feet. One of the men here at the center dug up the 7-foot one, and I took it to Hillsboro and got a blue ribbon."
The other amaranthus continued to spike, reaching a final height of about 12 feet tall.
"Everyone oohs and ahhs over it," Les reported to me before a storm a few weeks ago bent it over. "No one's ever seen anything like this." The two amaranthus that got no fertilizer reached a measly 36 inches, but did bloom beautifully, Les says.
He's 93 years old, and he's "just interested in what I'm gonna try next year." So am I. In the meantime, he's thinking about contacting Osmocote about his Jack-and-the-beanstalk results.
Back in Wichita this summer Shirley Boone finally found a use for her Topsy-Turvy tomato planter.
"I didn't have any luck with it last year with regular tomatoes," Shirley e-mailed me, "but this year I decided to plant cherry tomatoes instead. In spite of the excessive heat, which took a toll on everything but my okra and cucumbers (bush type), this plant excelled."
Shirley hung the planter on the southern end of her deck from a heavy-duty plant hanger installed just inside the edge of the roof.
"The beam that it is attached to is a 2-by-4. When I had it on the west last year, I used a big eye bolt that screwed in about 1 3/4 to 2 inches. It does require a heavy bolt. Mine came with the planter."
And finally, Mark McHenry of Hillside Nursery has a report on trees and shrubs that did better than their counterparts through the rough parts of the summer. Trees that have done relatively well include Regal Prince oaks, Emerald Sunshine elms and Bracken's Brown Beauty magnolias, Mark says.
"Green Giant arborvitae fared much better than a lot of the other varieties," he says. "Deodar cedars and blue and green Atlas cedars were some easy evergreens this summer.
"Shrubs that came through unscathed were Prague viburnum, Green Velvet and Green Mountain boxwood, Limelight hydrangea, desert willow (Timeless Beauty), and all abelias."
If you're like Charlene and have another watering in you, there's still room for more successes in 2010.