Advice for dealing with spent alliums, brown grass and leaf roller caterpillars – The Olympian


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The Globemaster Allium, a hybrid that is bred for superior strength, grows up to 5 feet tall.

The Associated Press

July is the month for lilies and delphiniums, alliums and phlox. Tall perennials that make a statement in the flower garden are showing off this month. Make sure you take time to stake them or use hoop supports before they get floppy, especially before summer rain storms. It is OK to give up and let your lawn go dormant — or rather “go golden” — if you need to cut back on the water bill. Our Northwest lawns will not die without summer water. They will come back green in the fall once the rains return. Q. My flowering onions or alliums are done flowering and my neighbor says I should spray paint the brown, dry seed heads left behind purple! She claims you taught her to do that on a YouTube video. Is this true? Painting dead flowers in the garden does not sound like good gardening to me. — D.L., Puyallup A. Yup, both ears heard that right. I admit to making like Van Gogh and getting crazy in the garden. A shot of purple or blue spray paint directed at spent allium blooms really can fool the most discerning visitor and will look like they are still in bloom if you use the right shade of purple. Or spray paint dry flowers orange or even pink because, after all, there are no rules when it comes to your own garden design. I have also used spray paint on the dried blooms of Miss Willmott’s ghost or Erygnium. Miss Willmott gave her name to this self-seeding spiky plant during the Victorian times when she was described by the old boys network of the Royal Horticultural Society as “a prickly old thing.” Well, as the story goes, she sprinkled the seeds of Erygium onto the estate gardens of those RHS members so that the prickly blooms would pop up in their beds for years in the future. Gotta love all the crazy characters that create gardens. Q. How long are sweet peas supposed to bloom? I bought a few plants this spring and was delighted that the plants grew tall and flowered by the end of June. A few weeks later the sweet pea vines turned brown and no more blooms. Help. — B., Email, Tacoma A. This summer may have been too hot to handle for sweet peas, which are cool season plants much like the edible garden pea. Once the soil warms and the nights stay above 70 degrees, the plants start to decline. To prevent their early demise, you can pick the flowers daily, keep the soil around their roots moist and use a mulch on top of the soil so they don’t feel the wrath of the hot summer sun. This love of cool weather is why sweet peas are often planted very early in the spring. Q. Help! Some of the leaves on my heucheras and pulmonarias and now also my cannas are rolled up length wise. If I pick a leaf, I find webbing and sometimes even a small worm inside the rolled-up leaf. What can I do? — G.L., Olympia A. Start harvesting all those rolled up leaves for one. The aptly name leaf roller caterpillar is making a nest on the soft foliage of many plants and laying eggs inside the protection of the rolled leaf. By removing the caterpillar nursery leaves, you are removing future generations of these pests. Put the rolled leaves inside a plastic bag to dispose of them and do not add to the compost pile. You can also control caterpillars with an organic spray of Bacillus Thuringiensis. This is a bacteria that will infect the soft bodies of caterpillars but will not harm humans or plants. The good news is that most caterpillar infestations are seasonal, and the leaf-roller problem could disappear by the next growing season even if you do nothing at all. Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at
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