(Note: Rambling chit-chat in the first part of this blog post is totally unrelated to the interspersed photos. Just trying to break of the wall of text a little!)
It's mid-August, and I am ready for cooler weather. By this point in the summer, I've pretty much abandoned the garden to the mercy of Mother Nature-- but I do go out every few days and deadhead some things (mainly the salvia and tithonia, this year). I've also started collecting seeds. So far, I've collected seeds from white and purple cleome, purple coneflower, sunflowers, 'Mega Punk' celosia, and bat-face cuphea (though I'm not sure those last were really ready, so I'll try again, later in the season).
I've also pulled a few weeds, but not nearly enough. There are places in need of attention. Specifically, cypress vine grows like crazy, this time of year. If you leave it for just a week, it starts to take over. Unfortunately, it gets in where it's very difficult to pull (in rose bushes), so there are a few vines that I've just left, so far. (Cypress vine is pretty, and the starry flowers do attract butterflies and hummingbirds, but just be very, very sure that you want it forever, before you plant it.)
Part of this late-summer "que sera sera" attitude is due to an avoidance of the heat, humidity, and pestier of the insects. There's also a natural tendency to get tired after so many months of keeping the garden in (more or less) decent shape. (However, if the weather were nicer, I think I'd still be nearly as excited to garden in August as I was in April.)
...And then there's that vaguely depressed sensation you get when you notice that so many of your plants are past their seasonal prime. Many of the annuals are getting ratty and/or flopping over. The majority of the perennials have done their thing for the year and are showing signs of fatigue. Some are leggy. Others are defoliated or insect-nibbled. There are still some that look nice-- some that might perk back up again-- and a handful that haven't yet flowered (but are getting closer by the day). But it's so easy to only see the ugly ones-- the ones that the caterpillars have been at (drat those things!). The ones that have served the garden well, but are ready for a well-earned rest, even though the calendar still says it's summer.
Maybe I need to look into the possibility of sowing a second round of annuals in summer. There are some that supposedly do just as well (if not better) in autumn than if started in spring, in our climate. Marigolds, for instance... Also blanket flower and tithonia and who knows what else. If it's on my calendar, I just might do it, so I need to figure out when's the time and make a note for next year.
Speaking of second crops, you may recall that I'd taken cuttings of our tomatoes and rooted them in hopes of planting a second round of plants. Well, they were doing well for a long time, but in the end, some tomato horn worms got to them, and by the time I noticed, they were goners. Oops... I'm not sure what to do to protect them, if I want to try again. Probably the key would be keeping a closer eye on them. Might not be worth it to me, but there's a chance...
I think I've decided to let the tithonia go, now. (That's the red-orange flower in the first photo of this blog post.) I find myself in the awkward position of needing to walk back my unstinting praise in an earlier blog post. Tithonia does still have its positive attributes, of course. Butterflies do flock to it. It gets to an impressive size (which can be a positive or a negative, depending on the space you have and what you like in an annual), with large leaves and "now that's what I call orange!"-hued flowers. But... It may not be the wonder-plant I previously painted it to be... It does have its shortcomings.
My tithonia plants have become kind of shabby-looking, already. Considering that they got a slow start (mostly my own fault), they didn't have that long of a "pretty season", this year. They took a while to begin flowering, and they're looking kind of sad by mid-August. There are caterpillars infesting at least the biggest one, which doesn't help, but I think they might be looking a little past-prime even without the bug issues. Not only do they need regular dead-heading (which can be tricky with such a large plant), but many of the leaves also started to brown and wither, giving the plant a tatty appearance. It might be possible to remove the dead leaves (which take a while to fall off on their own), but I haven't really felt motivated, and the plants have gotten a little bit leggy and bare, in general.
I still think they have their place; I'm just tired of deadheading them, at this point. I'm letting the current flowers stay on and set seed. When the seed seems ready, I'll harvest it and probably pull out or cut back the plants.
One thing to consider for the future-- maybe it's best to start tithonia later than usual, in this zone. The host of the local radio program was talking about starting his tithonia seed back in July, I believe. He also plants marigolds so that they're ready by late summer/early autumn. According to him, marigolds perform better as autumn plants, in our climate. I have noticed that mine seem to fall apart after a while. It would be possible to plant them in two rounds, I suppose, pulling out the tired ones to make way for the new seedlings... (Or just plant something else entirely, for the first half of the summer.)
Note to self for next summer: Be careful not to over-water the white spider lilies (hymenocallis). I'm still not sure if overwatering was to blame-- because I thought they could take a lot of water, and the daylilies right next to them seem to have fared just fine. Maybe a pest was to blame, after all...
In any case, earlier this summer, I noticed that one by one, a row of white spider lilies "disappeared". The foliage turned yellowish (I think...) and soggy, then died back to the ground. I was concerned, because I didn't remember them doing that before in the middle of summer, but I decided to leave them alone and hope that fresh, new leaves would come, given a chance. Weeks and weeks passed, with no sign of recovery.
This weekend, I finally decided I could no longer take the suspense, so I went out to investigate more closely. There are two little clumps of short leaves just emerging, so I'm cautiously optimistic that those bulbs will be okay. However, I dug up two small bulbs with no signs of green and was greeted by the disgusting smell of rot.
I'm not sure what happened to them-- but I do know that I noticed this spring (or was it the spring before?) that several white spider lilies in another part of the yard failed to come up. I was disappointed, but because it's not the best soil (northeast corner of the fenced yard, around a 'Little Gem' magnolia, kind of heavy soil-- clay with rocks), I figured it might just be due to that. I even convinced myself that maybe the bulbs were taking a year off. (Bulbs don't really do that, do they?) Now, I'm wondering if something got those, too. A clump of crinum in the same bed came back, same as always. (Crinum must be heartier than hymenocallis.)
Well, I'll dig around some in autumn and see what I can find. If the bulbs are still there, maybe I can move them to a better location.
Maybe I've chatted myself out, for the day.
Just photo descriptions, from here on out!
Below, what's left of the rudbeckia 'Autumn Sun'. They're interesting-looking like this, though not as pretty as with petals. Though there were a few new flowers about to open when I took the photo, this plant didn't seem to bloom very long, but the bloom period might have been shortened by the heavy rains. At least the seedheads add some texture that will carry over into autumn (or until I try to harvest them for seed).
I'm not sure if this is a morning glory or moonflower. One of the other vines that made it to flowering turned out to be a moonflower, so I should be able to harvest some seeds for next year.
The celosia is flopping right over into the path. I started cutting it back, but I stopped when I found a really big wasp that just wasn't budging. I looked again a day or so later, and it's still there! I think it's dead and somehow caught on the plant... So yes, it's probably safe to resume the cutting back, one of these days...
Celosia is another thing that has peaked and is starting to slump. Unfortunately, the slumpiest ones I have seem to be the 'Mega Punk', which was otherwise my favorite of the types I grew this year. However, they did look very good for months. Even if they can't quite carry the garden through until frost, they're still worth growing. (And the slumping may be a reflection of over-watering, weather, soil conditions, etc. They might last longer next year. ...And maybe I should just stake them, next time.) I'm saving lots of seed and definitely plan on planting it again.
Last year, Mom gave me a clump of something I think she called "swamp daisy". I believe it's a type of helianthus-- maybe Helianthus angustifolius, commonly called "swamp sunflower". (The flowers do look more like daisies than sunflowers, in my opinion, but I usually call them "swamp sunflower", because that's the name I seem to recall more easily.)
This year, the clump is much larger and thicker. I cut it back at least twice in the summer, to keep it from getting too tall and floppy. Well, maybe I didn't cut it back hard enough (or late enough in the season)! It's well over head high.
Here it is not too long after I planted it (photo from late September 2015):
And now, as of just a few days ago:
I can't cut it back, now, without probably damaging its chances of flowering. (It produces bright yellow, daisy-like flowers in autumn-- October, last year.) So long as a windstorm doesn't come and blow it over, I think it'll be fine (though maybe most of the flowers will be a little too high to get a good look at, this year).
Last year, I gathered some seeds, and new plants came easily this spring. I've planted them in a few other places around the garden. All are doing well (except some in a place with too little sun), but after seeing how this clump has performed, I think I may need to reconsider where I've planted them. This plant spreads by runners (as well as seed), so it has a reputation for taking over, if allowed to do so.
I may eventually regret spreading the swamp sunflower hither and thither, but at the moment, I like them. They do make you wait a long time for the flowers, but on the other hand, they provide a burst of cheerful color at the tail end of the main gardening season. Besides, I like the hugeness of the plant. I find that I enjoy the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being closed in and dwarfed by plants, and this plant provides that sensation easily. It would make a very effective seasonal tall hedge, as a matter of fact... Can you imagine walking through a labyrinth or maze made of swamp sumflower? I can't imagine making one of my own, but visiting one could be fun-- and just picture it in bloom!
I'll be keeping an eye on it, next year. If it's growing too much out of its allotted space, I might need to move it elsewhere, but I think it's well worth growing somewhere in the garden.