, Gloucester, MA

June 28, 2013

When to keep growing, when to cut back

North Shore Gardener
Barbara Barger

---- — Q: We have enjoyed growing some greens this year. Do I have to give them up very soon or can I grow them into the fall?

A: Make another trip to a seed rack right now before they’re all gone. Buy seeds now for late crops of greens and radishes and anything else that still plan to grow as the weather gets cooler. You’ve still got more than 60 days left in the late growing season, and if you have a cold frame, you could have greens year-round; delicious and so healthy!

Q: What is the best way to cut back my peonies now that the flowers are starting to die?

A: Cut just the dead flower heads after they’ve bloomed, but allow the foliage to grow all summer. In the fall, when hard frost has killed the greenery, clean out the bed thoroughly to prevent the old mulch from becoming a warm place for the winter. After a hard frost, cut back remaining foliage to about 4 inches high for the winter. Remember to remove and destroy all dead leaves and stems to prevent disease.

Q: When can I cut the old stems from all of the spring bulbs? I tied the bunches of foliage together like a teepee thinking they would look nicer over the summer, but now they look like mush or slime.

A: It’s time to gently clip the leaves from your spring bulbs. The leaves have been growing and conserving energy for next year’s crop, but now they have turned brown and their job is done for another year. Gently remove the now-soggy leaves by hand, or cut them about 4 inches from the ground. If you wait long enough, they will gently pull out without cutting. But can you stand looking at those mushy yellow leaves for another month?

Q: My hosta has come out with damaged leaves. Is it bugs? Could I have cleaned out too early this spring and accidently “frozen” the young plant? The rest of my perennials were fine. I’ve got to divide some of them this fall. Will I be transplanting bugs as well?

A: Hostas are a bit unusual; leaves developed in the spring are the leaves you will live with all season. Move them gently, breaking and tearing as few leaves as possible. With very little extra water and care this year, they will emerge again next season with perfect leaves!

If you need to hold hosta plants after digging and before replanting, cover the roots with wet newspapers or towels and keep them in the shade. Spray-mist the plants every day or two, more often if the weather is hot, and replant them as soon as you can.

This week’s dirt: Do you love your peonies but not the ants that populate the flowers? Try this: Cut the peonies as usual and immerse them in a deep pail of water. Set the pail in a cool, protected location, like a back porch. Make your arrangements the next day. You and your peonies should be ant-free!

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at or write c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at