Gardening: Pop some summer color into your garden

Nancy Szerlag
Petunias that look straggly can be rejuvenated by pinching them back.

If you’re planning an August celebration in your garden and some of the flowering plants are struggling because of wonky weather, here’s a good  solution. A quick way to fill a blank space in a flower bed or jolly up a blah spot in the landscape is use the “pop and drop” method many landscapers employ.  They buy hanging baskets of petunias or other annuals, pop them out of their containers and drop them into the ground for instant color. The good news is these containers are bargain priced now.

Most container grown plants purchased at this time of the year are root bound and they will need to be watered more often than annuals planted early in the season so be prepared to baby them.  If the temps climb above 85 degrees and they’re in full sun, water that planted root ball daily for a couple of weeks. This is a good practice for any new planting in the heat of summer.  

Petunia pots may be getting lanky now but if pruned back and fed with an iron fortified fertilizer, such as Jack’s Classic Petunia FEeD, they will snap back quickly and produce a large mound of color. Do this on your potting bench before you take it out of the pot and plant it.   Search online for “how to prune petunias in hanging baskets”  for how-to videos. It’s really a snap.

Timely tip: Heat and humidity, especially at night, triggers outbreaks of the dreaded fungal diseases that attack our beloved tomatoes and roses. Removing diseased leaves ASAP is one method of keeping them under control.  I keep a sharp eye on my tomato plants and should a leaf begin to yellow or develop a spot, I remove it pronto.  However, the fungal spores can stick to the blades of pruning tools and you can spread the disease to healthy growth when routine pruning.  In the past we were taught to clean the blades of pruning tools after each cut with a 10% bleach solution  of rubbing alcohol. The bleach solution became an issue for me early on when my 100% cotton shirts began to develop tiny bleach stains and alcohol caused rust issues on  pruner blades.

I found a better solution  in the American Rose Society magazine (, Lysol. A solution of made of 1¼  teaspoons  of Lysol disinfectant  concentrate  in 8 ounces of water in a spray bottle works as a disinfectant and is less corrosive on my tools.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. E-mail her at, Ask Nancy.  You can also read her previous columns at