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Green Acre #437: Gardening by the Numbers


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

A. MARY, MARY, quite contrary, why won’t my flowers grow?

Q. Let us turn to Alexandra, mother of the Midsized Garden, a British site that I follow. After all, she writes with that authoritative accent that makes one sit up, listen, and obey. Daringly, I have taken liberties with her words, as I do, adding a little this and that, here and there, but here’s the gist.

The No. 1 reason for blooming failures is, she says, you’ve planted the plant in the wrong location. A sun lover in the shade, a shade lover in the sun, plants that like bogs set in clay as dry as Death Valley in August . . . and so forth. 

If you move it, it shall blossom. Sometimes it’s not even much of a move; a few inches over and all’s well. Of course, moving anything in late July is a fraught enterprise. But it can be done, as long as you promise to water faithfully and pray to Flora, the Roman Goddess of Flowers, lest Phthisis, the Greek personification of decay, rot, and putrefaction (the name even sounds nasty, like spitting. Try it), come calling.

You’ll have the most success with moving smaller plants during the height of summer—perhaps those you planted a couple of months ago. Just make sure they’re watered, and don’t go on vacation unless there’s a lot of rain in the forecast.

No. 2. Old plants. Eventually, all plants die; one can take that to the bank. But a seemingly young and healthy specimen might stop flowering, or flower stingily, after a few years. It needs to be dug, divided, and replanted. The bad news is you might not see flowers this season. The good news is, next year you’ll have several plants that (given you put them in the right location) will be primed to flower. 

If they’re nice and healthy, albeit not doing anything notable, wait for fall to do your dividing and planting. You don’t have to risk death, and the plants will have a head start for next year.

No. 3. Sowing seeds too late—and don’t I know this one. Annuals need 14 to 21 days to germinate, then 90 to 100 days of growth before they flower. Do the math, which I never do. I do have to stop doing this myself; planting seeds in July is just tossing money in the wind. 

For example, DO NOT try to grow cosmos in July. Even if they sprout, the chances of seeing a flower are about nil. Instead, see if they have some left at the garden center.

No. 4. Deadhead. Hurray! A remedy you can fearlessly apply right now.

As soon as a flower shrivels, nip it off. Alexandra says the reason flower-growers have such an abundance of blossoms is that they deadhead even before the flowers droop, so new ones are constantly taking their place. 

A minimum of three times a week with the snippers should do it. She does mention one nutcase who does it three times a day, though the results are said to be glorious. 

No. 5. Pruning flowering perennials at the wrong time can decimate a season’s growth.

Cut the rose too late (and too hard) in the spring, and gone are this year’s flowers. Hydrangeas are tricky beasts: Some flower on old wood, others on new, and messing about at the wrong time can mean disaster for the season.

A great hydrangea primer is here.

No. 6. Ah, a tricky one. Too much or too little fertilizer. Don’t assume that a lack of flowers is due to a lack of fertilizer: Sometimes it’s from too much. You might get voluminous growth and no blossoms. 

Finegardening.com explains it all….

And if all else fails, plant fakes. I’ve put off the subject once but really will tackle it next week, in my usual tasteful manner. 



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