Now’s the time to tackle gardening chores for a flowering, weed-free summer

The end of May means the grass is growing, the roses are starting to flower and your garden beds need weeding and mulching if you want to enjoy a summer of less maintenance.

Work an organic mulch such as compost, Super Doo or weed-free manure into the top 6 inches of topsoil and you’ll be ready to plant flower or vegetable starts for a jump start on the summer season.

Did you forget to plant summer flowering bulbs? It is not too late to get dahlias, gladiolas and lilies into the ground and to divide up fall flowering perennials such as asters, Shasta daisies and rudbeckias.

Are your sedums looking lean and tall and reaching too much? You can cut sedums in half now. The top of the sedum plant can be rooted by removing the lower leaves and poking the cut end into moist soil. Cutting back tall perennials now will force side branching and more flowers.

Q. When do I prune my lavender plants? They survived the winter but look rather tall with dead leaves at the bottom. I have had them for many years and the plants keep looking worse each year. I even tried fertilizing the lavender plants last summer. — T., Tacoma

A. Pruning after blooming is the general rule of green thumb for lavender and other plants. And when it comes to lavender, cut back by about half, just until you get to the older, woody part of the stem. I use a pair of scissors so I won’t be able to cut easily into the wood.

The bad news is your lavender plants may be struggling due to their age. Lavender and other herbs have short life spans and by year six or seven, they are headed downhill fast. Give those senior lavender plants a death with dignity and rip them out of the ground. Replace them with fresh plants available now and in bloom at nurseries.

The English lavenders do better in our wet winters than the French or Spanish lavenders. Look for “Hidcote” or the dwarf “Compacta” and remember that lavender plants are not just lavender. There are varieties that bloom white or pink, and some others with interesting foliage.

Q. I grew a flowering maple plant or Abutilon from a small plant I purchased at a garden show. I brought the plant indoors for the winter and now want to move it outside to my patio. Problem is, there are small white flies on the leaves. Plus the plant is now over 4 feet tall! I saw on Facebook that you also grow this fancy plant. Your advice? — J.J. Buckley

A. Grab the shears and perform some major surgery on your Abutilon flowering maple now. This tropical member of the mallow family is prone to white fly and scale insects, but cutting back the plant in the spring will get rid of the culprits as they cling to the leaves. Give your potted plant a bigger pot and fresh soil. Fertilize regularly and you’ll have blooms and fresh foliage this summer.

Abutilons will not survive the winters outdoors, but you can store them in a garage or covered patio then prune them back hard for a fresh start each spring.

Look for more varieties this summer as local nurseries now carry the pink, yellow and tiger-striped Abutilons to add a touch of the tropics to patios. Once they flower, the Abutilon is a real treat for the hummingbirds.

Q. Can you recommend some shrubs I can grow in containers? I have some large (more than 10 gallon) pots that I don’t want to keep repotting every year. I like evergreens and plants that have fall color. Thank you. — P.Y., Bonney Lake

A. My favorite for a large pot are the compact Japanese maples such as the “Fullmoon maple” or any of the grafted red-leaf varieties. Nandinas or heavenly bamboo also thrive for years in a container and come in several forms and leaf colors. Yews offer evergreen color and there are varieties that grow tall and narrow.

For summer color, you can’t beat the hydrangeas and there are many compact varieties including the more winter-hardy mountain hydrangeas also called smooth hydrangeas. These hardy hydrangeas are called the “Annabelle” type. Look for Invicibelle Mini Mauvette, Invincebelle Spirit Two, and a small hydrangea with huge blooms called Invincebelle Wee White. All these hydrangeas are from Proven Winners, the people that have given gardeners the “Cityline” series of hydrangeas with a dense, more compact growth habit.

Meet Marianne

  • Marianne Binetti will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 27, at Molbaks Garden + Home, 13625 NE 175th St, Woodinville. The topic is “Container Gardening Dos and Don’ts.” You can register for this free event at

  • At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, Marianne will speak at the North City Water District, 1519 NE 177th St, Shoreline, on “Four Seasons of Color.” The class is free. For more information, call 206-362-8100

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at