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Your Plants Need A Drink, Too

It's h-o-t outside.

We can escape to air conditioning, but our plants aren't as lucky. Sun and drought make this a stressful time for gardens and if you want your flowers to continue to bloom, you'll need to mind them carefully.

You should plan on watering every day, maybe even twice a day. Do it in the early morning or evening when it's cooler outside; less of the water will evaporate and more will make it to the plant.

It sounds silly, Dimmock says, but lots of people water incorrectly. Often, they sprinkle the plant with water. Once the soil looks wet, they stop. However, if the plant only receives shallow watering, the roots will rise to the surface in search of the water. This makes plants less tolerant of drought.

Dimmock recommends watering the plant from the base and totally soaking it. By watering at the base of the plant you also avoid wetting - and in turn, hurting - delicate leaves and flowers.

If your community is limiting water use, Dimmock says, it's OK to dump bath and dish water on your plants so long as it doesn't contain an abundance of detergent or soap. Also, if you are concerned about water usage, don't feed your plants. This encourages more growth, which takes energy, making plants even more thirsty than usual.

However, if your water use is not limited, Dimmock recommends fertilizing plants regularly. If you want a cheap, all-purpose fertilizer, look for tomato plant food. According to Dimmock, this will please all of your plants, no matter what variety. To know how much and how often to fertilize, simply follow the directions on the box of the product you purchase.

If you are feeding bedding plants or other flowers planted directly in the ground, do not use a liquid fertilizer (or one you mix with water). Because you are watering so often, this liquid fertilizer will wash away almost immediately. Instead, choose a granular product that you sprinkle on the ground. This will be slowly broken down by watering and absorbed into the soil. Liquid fertilizer is fine for hanging and potted plants.

Dead Heading
One of the most important things you can do in the garden this summer is called dead heading. Basically, it means pinching off dying blooms. It's essential to do this if you want your flowers to continue blooming. A plant's goal in life is to produce seeds, found in its flowers. By getting rid of blooms you stop the plant from setting seeds, thus encouraging it to grow new flowers. You also keep the plant compact and neat looking. All flowers will benefit from dead heading.

Dimmock notes people tend to just pull off the dead petals. This is not dead heading. You must take off the whole flower, including the stem. Cut or pinch back to a leaf joint or node.

When choosing flowers for your yard, keep your eyes open for double flowers (i.e. double begonias or double impatients). These plants tend to be sterile, which means the flowers last longer because they are not trying to seed.

When you do cut back some flowers, instead of throwing away the cuttings, bring them inside and propagate them. You can nurture new plants to bed in the garden next year. You don't want dead blooms for this, obviously, but healthy ones.

You often see people placing cuttings in a glass of water on their windowsill. This is OK, but you do wind up with brittle roots, which may break when you pot them. Instead, place five to six cuttings in a small three-inch pot. Plant in gritty, i.e. sandy, compost soil. Place a polythene bag over the top of the pot to prevent the cuttings from drying out. Once roots have formed you can cut the corners of the bag to allow air to circulate and the plants to acclimate to fresh air.

By autumn, the cuttings should have some sturdy roots. Over the winter you can leave the pots outside along a wall of the house. This way, they won't be too cold or too warm. When spring comes, move them into your beds or bigger pots and enjoy!