Get gardening: Brighten-up your yard

Come back every month, from April to August, for expert tips to get your garden blooming

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With summer just around the corner, it’s time to maintain your lawn and fill the gaps in your garden with new perennials, trees and shrubs. But it’s also the season to get your patio or deck ready with pots and vases of fresh flowers for outdoor entertaining. Brighten-up your yard and dinner table with these great tips.

Potluck gardening

My favorite container choices for hot, sunny spots are Mediterranean-style plants: succulents like hens-and-chicks, and sedum; fragrant herbs like lavender and rosemary; and colorful annuals such as nasturtiums, calla lilies and geraniums. To get top performance from your plants when you garden on a patio, deck, balcony or rooftop, you’ve got to pay attention to fertilizing and watering.

The easiest way to fertilize is to mix slow-release fertilizer pellets for containers into the top 7 cm of potting soil when planting; follow the package directions for exact amounts. The fertilizer pellets release nutrients all season long when temperature and moisture conditions are right.

Daily watering is a must on hot, dry days. You might also consider retaining moisture with a layer of mulch over your potting soil. (I like to use pea gravel, which looks nice and goes with the Mediterranean theme.) When planting in containers, you can also add moisture-retaining products to the potting soil such as SoilSponge (available at garden centres).

Water works

The standard advice for new perennials, trees or shrubs is to keep them well watered until established. But what does this really mean? Many new gardeners think you only have to water for a couple of weeks. But a plant isn’t really established until it puts on vigorous new growth and develops a good root system.

With perennials, this might take a month or so, for shrubs it could take a season, but a new tree can take a couple of seasons to become well-established.

If Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough rain, get out the watering can, water wand or sprinkler and give your new plants a good drink at least once a week. This is especially important as we head into the hotter, drier months.

Bouquets that stay

When you grow your own flowers, you can afford to bring in armloads. For longer-lasting bouquets, keep these tricks in mind:

Early morning is the best time to cut flowers. If you can’t find time to get your clippings before sunrise, sundown is the best alternative. Timing is especially important during hot weather, as flowers and stems are full of water and at their freshest in the morning.

Always use sharp bypass pruners for cutting, as scissors will crush the stems. Take a bucket of fresh cool water into the garden and plunge your treasures immediately.

Back indoors, fill a clean vase with fresh, cool water and add floral preservative, available in packets at florist shops. Or, put a few drops of bleach in the water to rid it of bacteria and microbes.

For extra staying power, strip off any leaves that will be below the water line in the vase.

And here’s a bonus to cutting your own: when you cut from many annuals and those perennials that repeat bloom, you encourage more flower buds to form.

Healthy greens

To keep your lawn healthy through the summer, water deeply about once a week during dry spells. Provide at least 25 mm of water per week. To figure out how much water your sprinkler dispenses, use a rain gauge or place a tuna can on the lawn and time it—this way, you’ll know for next time and can save on water bills.

Since dull mower blades rip grass instead of cutting it, get your blades sharpened and cut high—at its 8-cm setting. Cutting too short weakens grass plants, allowing weeds to take hold and adding to drought stress. Leave clippings in place—they’re natural fertilizer.