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Storms pass; garden puttering continues

Some of our recent evenings have been absolutely beautiful, and spending an hour or so doing some easy tasks in the garden before it gets dark is a wonderful way to end the day.

After the three recent storms passed, I didn't think I would ever have to water again, but of course the sandy soil and the plants in containers dried out quickly. An evening chore of watering just those thirsty plants can be quite relaxing.

I always carry my hand pruners when I make these evening rounds and do a bit of clipping wherever necessary. A few nights ago I was ambitious and cut down and then completely removed a rose. It had been growing in a pot near the pool and I think last winter took its toll. The foliage was beautiful and it had grown quite large, in fact too large for its location, but was not blooming at all.

This is usually an indication that it was the rootstock growing. As I took a closer look, that is exactly what was happening. At some point the grafted rose had died and the rootstock had just exploded. It would not be unusual to never have blooms, so I cut it down to the ground and then removed the root system.

Now I have a nice, big pot on the pool deck to fill with colorful fall flowers. I'll roll it out into the grass tomorrow evening and give it a good scrubbing after I dump the old soil out. I'll move it back onto the lanai before refilling it, as it is quite heavy once full. I'm already thinking about what colorful combination of flowers I may plant in it.

I had not spent too much time in the back yard since the last hurricane traveled north. Since I was enjoying the weather, I also checked for broken stems and other problems. I removed the stems where necessary and pruned back those plants that were leaning a bit before pushing them back upright and packing soil around the roots.

My orchids also needed water as I usually count on the summer rain to do that job. Many of them are blooming or at least budding, so I mixed up some weak fertilizer in a spray bottle and gave them a diluted meal. I have never used a fungicide on my orchids, but noticed that a few have some black spots on the foliage. So I may give a fungicide a try. I have discovered that even orchids with absolutely ugly foliage can have beautiful blooms. Perhaps I have neglected their looks a bit.

I also noticed that I have very few spots to tuck annuals into the backyard beds any longer. The perennials have filled in nicely so I may just sprinkle a few seeds here and there.

The soggy soil did take its toll on many of my herbs. I will replant sage, basil, dill, parsley and a few others. My rosemary is in locations that drain well, so it did fine. Some of the others are marginal, but I trimmed them back and expect great performances from each of them this fall.

I do have some space in a bed I still call my "daughter's garden," although she is in college and has not helped me with it for a number of years. We had to remove a maple tree and took our time removing the stump. I have spent the last few months just keeping the weeds at bay. This is a raised bed with wonderful soil, so when a spot is left bare the weeds move in rapidly and in great profusion. I can now plant in that area, so need to spend some time deciding what I may do there. I foresee using a combination of both annuals and perennials.

Part of my "chores" during these recent gorgeous evenings has also been to take a few of my gardening books outside, the ones with the full color photographs, and just sit for a few minutes and enjoy what others have done in their spaces. This is not only relaxing but can lead to many ideas that may work in your space.

I know I was lucky that there was very little damage in my yard from the storms. In fact I have had more damage from some of our regular summer storms. But if you were unlucky and suffered some major damage to your landscape during the storms, don't be in a hurry to replace your plants. Clean up the debris and then take some time to think about what you and your family would like to get out of your garden. Spend a little time planning so that this renovation will end in a yard that you can enjoy for years to come.

_ Mary Collister writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, North of Tampa, 14358-B N Dale Mabry Blvd., Tampa, FL 33618.

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