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Posted: July 15, 2011

Take advantage of the experts and get some choice plants from plant society sales. These events are the best source for superb varieties rarely found in commerce. Plus, society members have tips and knowledge of local growing conditions that no catalog will ever match. Here are four for your calendar, including one Saturday:

Iris: Delaware Valley Iris Society sale, Jenkins Arboretum, 631 Berwyn-Baptist Rd., Devon. Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. www.dvis-ais.org.

Hosta: Delaware Valley and Tri-State Hosta Societies' sale and auction, Russell Gardens, 600 New Road, Churchville, Pa. Aug. 6, noon. www.delvalhosta.org.

Daylilies: Delaware Valley Daylily Society sale and auction, Church of the Good Samaritan, 212 W. Lancaster Ave., Paoli, Aug. 20, 9 a.m.-noon; auction 1 p.m. www.delawarevalleydaylily.org.

Peonies: Mid-Atlantic Peony Society sale (in conjunction with Scott Arboretum sale) Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Sept. 17, noon-4 p.m., Sept. 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. http://midatlanticpeony.org.

With the current heat and scarce rain, be strategic. Lawns are lowest priority for watering (they will green up as the nights lengthen and cool). Things planted this season, shallow-rooted plants, container plants, and raised beds need the most attention. Water as soon as you get up (to avoid loss to instant evaporation), and do so deeply every third or fourth day. To ease your water bill, put a bucket or two in the shower and the kitchen sink to save water that would go down the drain. Soapy water is fine for plants.

Since bearded iris are quasi-dormant in July, now is the ideal time to divide them. Lift entire clumps, wash off soil. With a sharp knife, cut away all soft parts of rhizomes as well as the older sections of rhizome with no feeder roots. Cut into pieces with one or two fans of foliage, which should be cut with scissors to about 6 inches. Discard all debris in the trash, not the compost. Allow the cuts to callous by leaving in the sun for a day or two. If you had borers, plant in a new location, which should get full sun and have excellent drainage. Space them 15 inches apart, feeder roots going straight down, rhizomes barely covered with soil. No mulch, please.

Daylilies may be divided when they finish blooming. A sharp spade makes quick work of a clump, but lifting it, washing well, and teasing the individual crowns apart results in much more to replant and share.

It's that once-a-year time for pruning hydrangeas. While they are in bloom or just as blossoms fade, remove about one-third of the stems, close to the ground, choosing the thickest (and thus oldest) ones to cut. Except to remove dead pieces, do not prune again for 12 months. Doing this annually results in a constantly rejuvenated hydrangea without risking the next year's flowers.

Before going on vacation, consider cutting back annuals and long-season-blooming perennials. They should be bushier on your return, soon to have a thicker crop of flowers. Petunias and impatiens respond especially well.

Crabgrass and stilt grass are annuals whose seeds overwinter and germinate in the spring. To prevent next year's crop, weed them now. Stilt grass, but not the oh-so-low crabgrass, can be kept from flowering by mowing. Next April use pre-emergent herbicide.

Plant the final crop of green beans. A fall crop of lettuce, spinach, arugula, as well as herbs that go to seed early, can be started from seed. Cuttings of basil can be rooted in water.

For a longer vegetable harvest, be consistent in harvesting (ask a neighbor to do so while you're at the Shore). Unpicked fruits discourage the plant from producing more flowers for later harvest. Soil temperature above 85 inhibits tomato flowering, so be sure they are mulched. For long, tender leeks in the fall, continue to mound soil around them as they elongate.

- Michael Martin Mills

Read Michael Martin Mills' recent work at http://go.philly.com/


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