Binetti: Keep gardens fed and healthy, and weeds at bay

Contributing writerJuly 9, 2014 


Heirloom tomatoes hang on vines at Cotton Plains Farm in Suffolk, Virginia, on July 13, 2010. (Adrin Snider/Newport News Daily Press/MCT)


Your potted plants, perennials and vegetables could use a good meal right about now.

So make this the week you give a good fertilizer to your corn, roses, delphiniums, tomatoes and other plants that you expect to bloom or produce until the end of summer.

But skip fertilizing these things: your lawn, rhododendrons, azaleas or other spring blooming shrubs. Your lawn might be slipping into dormancy and will require less water if you resist the urge to green it up by fertilizing this month. Spring blooming shrubs are done with their regular flowering and growth cycle, and they do not require extra fertilizer during the summer.

Here are a few questions from readers, with answers.

Q. I have grown rhubarb for many years, but this year the stalks were thin and the leaves much smaller than previous years. Is there some way to improve the performance of my rhubarb? P.P., Puyallup

A. Sounds as if you need to divide your mature rhubarb plants so they’ll turn over a new leaf. Mulch the soil around the plants with composted manure now so the roots will be shaded from the summer sun. Then in the spring, dig into the thick rhubarb crown and cut off side shoots with root sections about the size of your fist. Replant these in an area that has been enriched with manure and compost, and toss out the old center of the plants.

Those young upstarts will gather strength the first summer after the division, but then they will be tarting up your pies and sauces by the following year.

Q. How can I get rid of weeds in the cracks of my sidewalk? I do not want to use chemicals of any kind but cannot seem to pull this persistent grass-like weed from the cracks. J., email

A. Boil up a piping hot kettle of water, and pour this directly into the sidewalk cracks. You might even be able to smell the weeds cooking as the water destroys the roots. Be careful not to let the hot water flow into nearby flower beds where it can damage any living plant — or insect. Boiling water also is used to destroy anthills.

Q. When can I cut back the foliage of my peonies? The peonies are done blooming. Also, when should I cut off the old flowers of my peonies? One more question. When can I transplant a peony plant? R.T., Tacoma

A. First, wait until fall to cut back your peony foliage. You will know when it is time to get snippy because the leaves will turn yellow.

In our wet-winter climate, cutting back peony foliage in the fall will help prevent black blight on the leaves.

Second, you can remove the faded flowers and the stems of your peonies as soon as they are done blooming.

Better yet, harvest the peony flowers in the bud stage and enjoy watching them bloom indoors where they are safe from petal-punishing rain storms.

Last, peonies do not like to be transplanted, but if you must, then do the dirty deed in the fall and make sure you do not plant them too deep.

Set the pink eye or growth bud just below the surface of the soil.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at

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