Whenever you can, attend a garden club garden tour and plant sale. The gardens inspire us with unique and new varieties and plant combinations as well as garden accessories that elicit 'Oh, I never would have thought of that.' The Laurel Oak Garden Club Tour last week was a great example of why tours are so popular. Plants certainly benefited from record spring rains. More on the tour next week.
"Shooting Star" lace-cap hydrangea caught my eye, along with Houttuynia cordata. The first was gorgeous, and the second extremely invasive and impossible to rogue out. It is a charming perennial with four-petaled flowers standing above heart-shaped leaves edged in red.
DO NOT be taken in by its charm. If the Houttuynia stem is touched or broken, it smells like dead fish and it lingers on hands and gloves.
DO NOT accept a start from a friend or enemy. Once planted, Houttuynia is impossible to get rid of it. The groundcover spreads by rhizomes that readily break off when dug. An eighth-inch left in the ground will regrow this season or can remain dormant for 20 years. It also spreads by seed.
Eight years ago, a small bed was completely dug to remove the Houttuynia, and dirt was sifted through a window screen -- twice. The plants continued to return for a couple of years, but digging seemed to have killed it out. Last year, a few appeared, this year a few more appeared a couple of weeks ago, and now its presence is significant. Back to digging. Bag up every tiny piece of plant and put in the trash. Composting only improves its vigor.
Other controls that can take years: Repeated applications of herbicides will kill houttuynia but also kill desired plants. Solarization or black plastic over the entire bed can be effective.
It also spreads in disturbed soil that has been enriched, likes sun and apparently, excessive rain.
Things to do
The summer garden is for enjoyment. This from an old garden book on the dusty miller plant.
"There are two kinds of dusty miller. The first is made, not grown, with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and a fine dust of malt. It is served in a paper cup and eaten on the beach." Or your backyard, whichever is handy. Dusty miller is a great ground cover and likes sandy soil.
• 15 minute gardening -- Add mosquito pellets to water features. Turn stacked containers upside down to eliminate standing water.
• Garden -- When planting annuals, pinch back the stems to force more growth. Fertilize geraniums every three weeks. They particularly love manure tea. Geraniums like crowded pots but not wet soil. When heavy rains are forecast, move containers under shelter if possible. To dry hydrangea blooms, cut and immediately plunge stems into water, remove foliage, recut stems and singe the ends with a lighter. Daffodils may be divided until mid-August. Save deadheaded and plant prunings to compost. Do not compost diseased plants.
• Herbs -- The real oregano (Origanum heracleoticum), or Greek, produces white blooms, while the blooms of its mimic, margoram (O. marjorana or O. vulgare), are mauve. For parsley until fall, continue to plant. It is said that if you burn St. John's wort on a midsummer night (June 22), you may see fairies.
• House plants -- Plant amaryllis to dig in the fall. Place poinsettias in the sun, keep moist and cut stems to 6 inches to force more growth. They will rebloom next February or March. Fertilize with 20-20-20 according to directions or water plants with one-fourth-strength fertilizer. Reduce summer sun intensity by moving plants back from south- and west-facing windows, or installing sheer curtains.
• Trees and shrubs -- Check gardenia and pyracantha for white fly and azaleas for lace bugs. Spray with an organic insecticide.
• Water gardens -- Keep water clear of debris. Floating plants will reduce water sun-exposure and algae build-up.
Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at firstname.lastname@example.org