I have just returned from a week at my parents’ house in California. I always enjoy being away from the garden for a bit, then gauging my immediate reaction when I return. This time, my gut response was claustrophobia. I may feel this way because my folks are high up with a wide open view of the ocean, while we are nestled in a hollow with tall trees all around…or it could be the usual mid summer overgrown state of the garden that needs an intervention. Not one to let the plants grow under my feet, I headed outside and started whacking.
I enjoy the midsummer cutbacks. Just when I am beginning to feel the garden is tired (or maybe that’s just me) a thorough groom and cutback refreshes the garden. One good round at this time of the growing season will improve the health of the plants by getting rid of dead weight, increasing air circulation and will encourage some repeat blooms. It also can hold the structure of the garden until late fall. At first, it seems a little bare to go from the overwhelming abundance to a cleaner look, but you will appreciate this effort a few weeks down the road when the plants start to fill back in with fresh foliage, instead of letting them burn up their energy supporting dead weight. First I whacked back the Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’ which just completed it’s bloom. I gave all my Heuchera a solid groom to pull out dead or dying foliage and encourage air circulation at the base. I pulled out the spent blooms from the groundcover Campanula ‘Birch Hybrid’ and I did some judicious pruning of piggy plants that were threatening to swallow up less aggressive neighbors or were splayed out at weird angles. Lastly, I swapped a leggy sedum in a small pot for some sempervirens. As a general rule, I leave interesting seed heads and spent grass inflorescence as long as possible into winter, so these are spared at this time. The garden already looks renewed. Up next will be taking all the euphorbia back that have not yet been cut, more nepeta and geranium whack back and a few other odds and ends. When this round of work is done, I will likely have hauled 10 wheel barrel loads of debris. This sets the stage for the late summer bloomers that are coming on such as persicaria, sedum and astilbe chinensis and also allows me to get more enjoyment out of the garden.
If your temperatures are as high as ours right now (100 degrees) wait until cooler weather arrives or do the work in the morning or evening. Happy whacking!