The Block Island Times

Of petunias and peonies

By Fred Nelson | May 25, 2013
Courtesy of: Fred Nelson Wave petunia.

Our Block Island weather certainly doesn’t lend itself to much outdoor gardening outside of cleaning up winter debris and a bit of pruning that you had put off from last fall. However, time is short for making plans; when the more pleasant weather finally arrives you’ll be ready to go to “work.”

Upon visiting the Interstate Navigation ticket office last week, I noticed a good looking poinsettia sitting on the desk area. This plant looked as if it had just come out of the greenhouse and here it is five months after the Christmas season. The fact that this plant was still in excellent condition can be attributed to diligence from the staff members at the office; principally, Cindy Littlefield. Watering as needed, a moderate temperature and a sunny location all contribute to the longevity of this plant in its “flowering” state.

I believe that most gardeners know that the red bracts of the poinsettia are not the flower. The flower itself is nestled in the top and center of the bracts. The challenge to perpetuate this plant is not all that difficult. Sometime in the near future one should cut the plant back to about one half of the stem length. Make the cut just above a leaf axil. If there is any amount of tiny branches within the plant, they may be entirely cut off of the heavier stem. This pruning action will result in the development of new branches sprouting from the main stems.

In order to have healthy new shoots it is necessary to fertilize on a regular schedule. The easiest product to use would be one of several concentrated liquid fertilizers. Follow the directions on the label for the strength and frequency or applications. The plant should be placed where it receives the most sunshine. If the plant gods are with you, by the time September arrives you should have a pretty well developed plant with several sturdy stems. During the later part of September you must place the plant where it continues to receive as much sunshine as possible during the day but it also must have absolute, uninterrupted darkness from sunset until sunrise at night. Sometime in late November new bracts should be forming for the ensuing Christmas holiday season. At this time, call me and we shall give you a commendation along with a corresponding picture.

If you have been using impatiens as a foundation for season-long flower color in your garden, you may want to find a substitute due to the uncontrolled downy mildew threat to impatiens. A good choice would be the use of the recent introduction of the “Wave” variety of petunias. These petunias grow quite compact and blossom continuously throughout the season, well into October. They are particularly attractive in large containers or hangers. Besides their heavy blossoming characteristic, they do not require dead-heading. Petunias, in general, become leggy unless pinched and to enhance flowering they must be deadheaded.

Wave petunias may be pinched as any other young plant but once they have started summer growth they pretty much take care of themselves. If you want to be sure that you are purchasing Wave petunias look for a specific Wave label. Last year I found it very difficult to find them. This year I have already seen then offered by Stop & Shop and Home Depot. This action shows that the Wave petunias will probably become the main petunia offering from now on. We have had a hanging pink Wave petunia since late February. It requires attention to watering due to the size and vigor of the plant. To add further to the culture we have been adding a liquid fertilizer (MiracleGro) to the water — 20 drops to a quart of water.

While browsing a garden center we saw some distinctively bright, colored blossoms that caught our eyes. Of course we had to buy a couple of them. These are gazanias, sometimes called African daisies. They are a sun-loving flower that will flower all season into the fall. In southern climates they may be grown as perennials. The primary color revolves around the yellow-orange-red shades. Water as needed, deadhead faded blossoms as soon as possible to enhance flowering, feed occasionally and add a couple of inches of mulch to insure optimum flowering. Since we have not grown them in previous years we shall see how productive they are. If one doesn’t try to grow something different from what they have grown in the past you never know when you may find a new passion. This is what contributes to the admiration of the many wonders of the horticultural world.

Last year our peonies were devastated by Botrylis blight. This disease usually is most prevalent on the blossoms. The blossoms never mature and almost dissolve or dry up on the plant. I was afraid that I had lost them since literally the whole plant disappeared. Lo and behold, they are sending up some decent growth so I shall start a spraying program using Benomyl (Benlate) and apply at two week intervals. Benomyl has some systemic effect. Ferbam may also be used for control. It is important to spray the surrounding ground as well as the plants themselves as they develop. The age-old practice of cleaning the garden by cleaning out all of the dead foliage in the fall is an added practice. Do not use this debris in the compost bin.

During the gardening season perplexing problems pop up on occasion. A quick check on what the problem might be is to contact the University of Rhode Island Outreach Center where Master Gardeners are on hand to provide aid. If they cannot answer your concern they, in turn, contact a University specialist for the information. This is a great free resource for problem solving. The telephone number: toll free at (800) 448-1011 or call (401) 874-4836. If you have a sample of some plant malady or insect that you would like to have identified you may send in a sample of the problem or visit the center at 3 East Alumni Avenue on the campus. This is off of the main entrance road into the University campus. Just drive down the road and you will find East Alumni Ave. on the left. The Center is immediately on the right as you enter.

“Little by little, even with other cares, the slowly but surely working poison of the garden-mania begins to stir in my long-sluggish veins.” — Henry James (1843-1916)

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