Home & Garden

Garden a-fresh

"My wisteria's blooming!" "Bradford pears are blooming!" Nearing the end of what has been, to put it kindly, a wacky summer, shades of spring have entered in, leading to incredulous exclamations.

Spring-blooming shrubs and trees that went into dormancy with the summer heat might as well have gone through winter for all they know. They reawakened with some rain and lower temperatures (which were all too brief) and are now blooming. (Expect next spring's bloom show to be decreased accordingly.)

Meanwhile, tomatoes and other summer crops adversely affected by the brunt of the summer heat also rebounded with lower temperatures, and, weather permitting, will produce their longed-for fruits into the fall. Even in a normal year, tomatoes and peppers can produce through mid-October. Just keep watering.

At the same time, the respite of lower temperatures reawakened gardeners, who found that life, after all, might be worth living. They started planting carrots and beets and lettuce in anticipation of sweet, crisp, cool-weather salads. I started hunting down a sweatshirt or two.

It's hard to hold it all — the new, odd season of sprummerfall. A mixture of hope, regret and sunscreen, it requires living in the moment while trying to forget the past and plan for the future.

Here's how one reader looks at it:

"Even though my folks never had a vegetable garden, I started planting them as a school kid. Learned that the clay soil in College Hill —when not amended — resulted in golfball-size and -shaped carrots. Fast-forward to today with about 30-plus years of gardening under my belt, all from trial and error and probably a little DNA from my Pop Wyatt. And I've learned: patience, perseverance, hope, optimism, stick-to-itive-ness and probably just a great love for the unexpected.

"I've gardened long enough to learn not to give up. Cut things back, water a little more, maybe pull a few things up, but in Kansas things will change, and there may be some things to salvage. Almost always.

"Overabundance and less-than-spectacular results can yield some fun and creative recipes. Letting things go to seed and watching for the subsequent year's volunteers is a fun adventure and about as close to gambling as I get. Watching a garden rebloom and yield after a horrific hail storm or a summer like this one seems miraculous.

"So my post-heat-wave garden is just another in an almost lifelong adventure in gardening. Can't wait to see what it yields."

Got tomatoes?

Finally! If you have blooms on your tomatoes, you can still expect a harvest this year. Tomatoes set after Sept. 15 are unlikely to ripen before we get a frost, extension agent Rebecca McMahon says, but could still produce good green tomatoes. Even in a normal year, the tomato and pepper harvest can go into mid-October. Keep watering.

Pull it out

No, not your hair. "If squash and cucumbers are getting swarmed under by disease. pull them out and plant something for the fall," extension agent Rebecca McMahon says. "It's been hot enough for long enough, if plants are in poor health," move on! Plant kale, lettuce, radishes, spinach, beets and turnips.

Fall flowers

Freshen up pots and beds by pulling out leggy petunias and adding new infusions of annuals, which will bloom almost until first frost. Buy mums in tight bud if you want them to bloom in the fall. If you have potted perennials that you want to keep, get them in the ground by the first of September, extension agent Bob Neier says. Or wheel the pots into an unheated building for the winter.

Watch the grass

Before jumping in and reseeding brown grass, give it a couple of weeks to see if it comes out of dormancy. "You don't want to go crazy if there's really live grass out there," Neier says. Do kill weedy areas now, though. Plan to overseed in mid- to late September.

Divide perennials

Divide daylilies now and, once it cools down a bit in September, divide spring-blooming perennials, including peonies.

Brown? Cut it down

Competing with drought-browned plants that bring down the communal landscape are pines that have died of various causes, including pine wilt. They need to be removed at some point, so why wait?

Yew just wait

Many evergreens have scorched in the heat. Yews whose needles have browned on the top but that have healthy branches below should be fine, Neier says. Let the needles get good and crispy, then knock them off with a broom, he says. Wait to prune in the spring. (If there is dead wood, however, it can be removed now.)