Judi L. (Tarboro) Asks: My azaleas are just about finished blooming and some of the blooms are turning brown. Am I supposed to cut them back now?
Answer: Yes. You can prune your azaleas now through early July, and also your forsythia and other flowering shrubs, as long as the blooms are spent and faded. It’s also a good idea to cut back the leggy branches, but please don’t overdo it! Allow the plants to take on their own natural form. Don’t destroy this natural look by shaping your shrub into round balls or square boxes. And, remember: you should never prune away more than one-third of the overall plant. Be sure you are finished pruning by the end of July and you will have avoided the summer heat. Remove all the spent blooms on the ground to prevent any chance of disease and give the shrub a layer of fresh mulch.
Note: Pruning after July may destroy next year’s flower buds.
Laura L. (Tarboro) Asks – What would cause stems with 1-inch-diameter peonies buds to suddenly curve downward? The foliage is still upright and strong.
Answer - Most peony varieties have heavy buds and heads, and they will droop from the weight of the bloom, due to weak stems. That particular variety of peony may have stems that are weaker. When there is heavy rain, the buds and blooms become heavier and need to be staked and supported. Because no one can predict the weather, it is a good practice to put braces around all peony clumps. Most garden centers will carry peony supports or you can fashion one out of a tomato cage.
Laura L. (Tarboro) Asks – Please tell me more about growing peonies. I am new at this.
Answer: Peonies are a lovely, old-fashioned perennial that will add beauty and heavenly scent to your garden for many years. If you're looking for a flowering plant that deer won't eat, peonies are an excellent choice. Peonies will grow in much of the US but they do require a period of dormancy, and most varieties won't survive in growing zones of 9-10 and higher.
Tips: Plant peonies in the late summer to early fall, at least six weeks before the ground typically freezes in your area. Choose the location for your peonies carefully as once established, peony plants do not like to be disturbed. Plant them in a location where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight daily during the growing season. Peonies won’t grow well in wet soil or clay, but a raised bed will help avoid these problems.
James L. (Tarboro) Asks - Planting instructions call for liberal quantities of organic matter. What is organic matter?
Answer: One definition of organic matter would be material that is derived from living or once-living plants or animals. In gardening, it usually means plant or animal material that has decomposed to the point of being mixed in various types of soil to amend it to make nutrients more available to the plants. It includes mostly decomposed manure, compost, or peat moss. Soil testing will let you know how much to add to soil along with any nutrients that are lacking, so you will know how much fertilizer to add. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more information on soil testing options.