Don't throw in the trowel

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2010 - 4:14 PM

With a few quick fixes, you can perk up your veggies and flowers and keep your garden looking good until the weather stops you cold.

Photo: Jim Freitag, Star Tribune

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Wilted. Sunburned. Bug-bitten. And your garden probably doesn't look so great, either. If you and your plants are suffering from late-summer doldrums, there are a few things you can do to freshen up both edible and ornamental gardens.

Revitalize the veggies: Yes, it may be hot and humid, but grab your sun hat and head out to the vegetable patch for a few hours. Now's the time to ruthlessly pull weeds. (You can throw the leaves, stems and roots in the compost pile, but nip off developing seed heads and throw them in the trash. That way, you'll reduce next year's weed crop.)

Refresh the mulch. A few inches of clean straw, shredded leaves or other organic mulch will suppress new weeds and bring back that tidy look your garden had early in the summer.

Remove diseased foliage on tomatoes and other plants, continue to water and fertilize as needed, and harvest crops frequently. (Your neighbor does not want your hugely overgrown zucchinis, really.)

Do a fall planting. There are some veggie seeds you can still plant and get a harvest before frost. So, clear out a spot of soil and sow quick-growing greens such as spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula, mustard, Swiss chard, kale and mizuna. Radishes, beets and baby carrots are also good candidates, as are herbs such as cilantro, dill and basil.

Perk up the posies

It will be worth your while to spend some time tidying flower beds. Deadhead spent flowers, remove yellowed foliage and stake floppy stems. You may even want to head to your favorite garden center and pick up some end-of-season annuals or late-blooming perennials to add color in open spots in beds and borders. (It's too late to sow annual flower seeds for this year, but put a note on next year's calendar reminding yourself to sprinkle seeds of zinnias, cornflowers, poppies, marigolds and other annuals several times through the summer.)

Get colorful with containers

Window boxes, pots and other containers are an easy way to keep your landscape looking good well into fall. Your summer containers may be in need of a little help by now. Trade out tattered plants, but leave the ones that still look good, such as that spill of chartreuse sweet potato vine. Carefully create space for new plants, and settle them in with fresh potting mix.

If you didn't get around to planting some container gardens, do it now. For impact, arrange groups of containers of different sizes on decks, patios, front steps or entryways. Don't settle for fall mums. Instead, fill your containers with anything that strikes your fancy at the garden center -- blooming perennials, grasses, herbs, even small shrubs. You can always transplant them to your garden later in the fall.

Even in cooler weather, be sure to water and fertilize all container gardens regularly to keep them perky.

Get after the grass

If your lawn is looking a bit tatty, now is the time for action. Late August to mid-September is the ideal time to overseed thin turf. Rough up the surface so grass seeds can make good contact with the soil, then keep the area watered regularly while the seeds germinate and grow.

If you have the energy, this also is a good time to edge your beds and borders. Use a flat spade, half-moon edging tool or mechanical edger for the job. Of course, edging can be done anytime, but if you do it now you can admire your handiwork this fall -- and have one less task to tackle in the spring.

Nancy Rose is a horticulturist at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. She previously worked for the University of Minnesota Extension.

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