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Notes From the Garden: Get Ready for Company With These Handy Tips

I’ve got company coming this weekend and I want my gardens to look nice. I can’t make them perfect, but here are some of the things I’m doing — and that you can do, too, whether company is coming or you just want to get on top of garden tasks.

First of all, I am getting rid of all the tall weeds. A flower bed with four-foot tall weeds is much less attractive than a flower bed with the same number of short things creeping around the bed. So golden rod that towers over the daylilies is much more of a problem than 6-inch-tall creeping Charlie that scurries around their base.

A big clump of goldenrod can be a fearsome opponent. It holds on fiercely. But if you are truly in a hurry, you can fix the problem — in the short term — by cutting it off with pruners or a sharp serrated knife. That makes it disappear to the casual viewer. Later, when you have more time, you can dig up that big clump of tenacious weeds with a shovel.

Next, I am buying some plants to fill in spaces. Each year a few perennials die over the winter, and I try to replace them each spring and summer. But this year was so wet that I never got around to doing so. There are places where, I must admit, some flower beds have patches of pure weeds. As I weed them out, I am discovering spaces where I can plant new things.

I recently was at a farmers market and saw a beautiful purple-blue perennial known as a speedwell or veronica (Veronica spicata). It was in full bloom and magnificent with 16-inch spikes of small flowers. I should have purchased three, but was unsure how much space (and money) I had, so I only bought one. Maybe next week there will still be some left and I can buy more.

This is the time of year when daylilies are particularly lovely, so I went to Cider Hill Gardens in Windsor to look through their selection and bought some nice “spider” daylilies. They differ from standard daylilies by having longer petals spaced farther apart — almost like the legs on a spider. I planted them with the veronica — a very nice contrast.

You can divide most flowers almost any time of the year (except peonies, which should only be done in the fall). I have a big clump of a late fall-blooming clear yellow daylily that, over time, was being overshadowed (literally) by a multi-stemmed shrub known as common ninebark, a variety called “Diablo.” Diablo has dark purplish leaves and grows fast. Very fast. Each year — right after it blooms in June — I cut off about two feet from each stem to keep it under control. But each year the shrub sends up more stems from the ground, expanding its diameter. And so this wonderful daylily was being crowded.

I used a drainspade to dig up that big daylily. This is a spade about 16 inches long and 6 inches wide. I pushed the spade into the soil at a 45-degree angle in four places around the perimeter. Each time it was fully inserted into the ground, I pushed down on the handle, lifting the clump a little. On the fourth and final push, I pried it out and carried it away.

At this time of year annuals are in short supply in most garden centers, but if you can find some, they are a great addition to the garden because most will bloom until frost. Just cut them back if they look ratty, and give them some liquid fertilizer.

Until recently, my window box by the front door was pretty pathetic. I yanked a lackadaisical dahlia and replaced it with a colorful pink “Superbena.” Superbenas are hybrids of annual verbenas that do very well in hot, dry locations like window boxes.

Potted plants can be used to spiff up the garden, too. I generally move all my potted plants outside in the summer, placing them on the north-facing deck. But when company comes, I am not above moving a few of the larger ones into the garden. I am careful not to put them in full sun, however, as they’ve been in a fairly shady location all summer and I could easily sunburn the leaves if I put them in too much sun. A nice clivia or papyrus in a decorative pot can be a nice addition to an otherwise drab location.

And finally, mow the lawn the day before your mother-in-law or college roommate arrives. A well-cut lawn is pleasing to the eye, especially if you use a push mower to go in all the corners, or use a string trimmer to do the edges. And it’s even OK to pay someone to do it. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy your property with your guests.

Henry Homeyer’s web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. He is the author of four gardening books and a children’s book: “Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet.”