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Give tired containers a late-season tune-up

Take your displays from weary to cheery with these tips

When the hot, hazy days of late summer descend, planters that looked lush at the beginning of the season can start to flag. Here’s how to help them make a successful transition from summer to fall.

Tidy up
To instantly improve a container’s over­­all appearance, trim off damaged, yellowed, crispy or chewed leaves. Thoroughly deadhead spent blooms (nip off all flower parts, not just the petals); this prevents plants from producing seed, which triggers them to stop flowering. Those that benefit include dahlias, geraniums, heliotrope, lantanas, marigolds, nasturtiums most petunias, salvias, verbenas and zinnias. Small-flowered plants such as bacopa, fibrous (wax) begonias, impatiens and portulaca and are too time-consuming to deadhead and are often self-cleaning.

Adjust water and fertilizer

By late sum­­­mer, plants have matured and their roots fill the container, so they may need more frequent watering. And if you used a time-release fertilizer at planting time, it’s likely depleted. Check moisture levels often, and begin feeding plants weekly with a water-soluble fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 15-30-15, diluted to half strength.

Give stragglers a haircut

For specimens such as calibrachoa, petunias, sweet alyssum and trailing lobelia that have grown lanky, a shearing may be in order. Cut back stems by one-third, then feed as above. Plants may look a bit sparse for a week or so, but they’ll soon put on new, more compact growth. Trailers, such as sweet potato vine or licorice vine, that have grown out of bounds benefit from a thinning. Cut back one-third to one-half of their stems to a few centimetres from the base of the plant.


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