published Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Lea: What to do with mushy, miserable, wet plants

By Pat Lea

Q. All this rain has my potted annuals looking awful. Do I have to start over or can I salvage anything?

A. At this point in this unusual season, it is hard to predict what will happen next. We are having a very unusual cool and rainy August. Who can tell what September will bring?

August is when the petunias, dahlias, periwinkles, geraniums and other colorful summer annuals usually are in lush and full bloom. Instead we have fungus-covered, non-blooming miserable, mushy messes.

I sympathize totally, but there is some hope. You can cut back all those squishy, nasty plants, hope that they will dry out and that several weeks of warm weather will perk them up. Cut off all the spindly stems, move them and give them a fertilizer with a big middle number (say, 15-30-15) and hope for some sun. You might try moving plants on terraces to covered porches or protected areas to limit the rainfall levels they must endure.

Or you can pitch them out and give in to the weird weather and buy some nice ferns that are having an ideal summer. If you buy hardy ferns, you can display them in pots as they grow, then plant them in your shady areas this fall.

Other possibilities that serve a double purpose would be potting some colorful hostas for a big show now, then plant them in fall. The moles and voles have been devouring hostas planted in the ground at a great rate this summer, so you would have replacements full grown and ready. (My theory is that the rain has softened the soil to the point that any mole or vole can tunnel everywhere with no resistance and that is why "safe," well-rooted plants are sustaining so much damage.)

If you are desperate for immediate color for an upcoming event, the answer may be to purchase a full-grown hanging basket and pot it in your decorative container. If all else fails, hopefully the chrysanthemums that brighten the autumn may be ready early, and we can all make do with pots full of them.

Email Pat Lea at lea.pat@gmail.com

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