July Garden Update

July Garden Update: Survivors, Bucket-kickers, and Re-animated Corpses

July Garden Update: Survivors, Bucket-kickers, and Re-animated Corpses

This week, The Renaissance Garden Guy July garden update is on tap right here.  Trust me when I tell you that it’s worth sticking around for.  There’ve been some developments…

Mother Nature sure is full of surprises…

Greetings, gang, and welcome back.  We’re in the garden this week, and I’ve got some updates for you.  Four, specifically.  The first is very general, and really not unexpected.  The other three concern some plants I discussed in three separate articles earlier this year, and they’re loaded with more curveballs than a Yankees/Red Sox doubleheader.  These July garden updates are interesting and relevant, and the information they’re packing might very well help you out in your own gardens one day.

July Garden Update Part One: Expected Calm Seas and Smooth Sailing

April and May this year were, on average, cooler than normal in my particular section of the hardiness zone 5B/6A world.  This fact resulted in sprouting and blooming among a number of my garden’s plants that occurred a little later than usual this spring.  But hey, no harm, no foul.  Because neither June nor July was overly hot or overly dry this summer, and once all the plants really got going, it was nothing but green leaves and big, bright flowers for the remainder of the spring right up through the present.  So, it’s looking pretty much like it should in my garden these days.  Nothing special or out of the ordinary here.  Below are some pics that do a decent job of telling the story.

July Garden Update
Azalea 'Karen,' left, and a double primrose.
'Biokovo' hardy geraniums and woodland forget-me-nots make amicable neighbors (left); creeping phlox in the sun.
July Garden Update
'Blue Zebra' primrose (left), and Spanish whitebells.
July Garden Update
Peonies and ants - good buddies.
July Garden Update
Clockwise from upper left: violas, corydalis, pulmonaria, and iberis.

What would this RGG July garden update be without an awesome product rec or two?  I love Espoma’s organic fertilizers.  Plant-tone is the one I use for the majority of the flowering plants in my garden.  It’s got an N-P-K ratio of 5-3-3 and is a great all-purpose organic fertilizer.  It works perfectly for plants like corydalis, viola, dianthus, shasta daisies, and primroses, to name just a few.  Again, Espoma Plant-tone is the food that almost all of the flowering plants in my garden eat.  I wouldn’t use it – and I’d never recommend it – if it didn’t work.  You can click this #advertisement link to order this excellent product right here, directly from Amazon.

Espoma Organic Plant-tone

Click here to learn more or to order


Espoma Organic Plant-tone rocks!

July Garden Update Parts Two, Three, and Four: Casualties, Survivors, and Returns from the Dead

Part Two: Casualties

In my article of this past March, “Late Winter Pruning in the Midwest,” I referenced my Clematis H.F. Young vine, discussed how I pruned it to the ground in late winter (in March, in fact), and explained my reason for doing so.  The previous summer, the vine had come down with a nasty case of Clematis Stem Rot, aka Clematis Wilt.  The typical intervention involves immediate pruning to the ground, or even a bit below, to a point just above the plant’s crown.  Because this disease is caused by a fungal infection of the stems, and not the roots, immediate intervention in this manner generally saves the plant.  In my case, I was hesitant to cut my vine down when the disease’s symptoms first appeared because I wasn’t sure that stem rot was the problem.  I effectively wasted a whole bunch of valuable time trying to nurse the vine back to health by increasing soil acidity, adding nutrients, and blah, blah, blah.  By the time I was convinced that the vine was being wrecked by stem rot, I believed that it was too late in the season to cut it to the ground (I was worried about the coming frigid temperatures).  It turned out that it was too late.  When I finally pruned the vine down to the ground this past March, I was hopeful that it would come back.  By the end of the first week of April, my big and beefy Clematis Jackmanii was setting up for some serious growth on the other side of the arch that it shared with the H.F. Young, but there wasn’t even a whiff of action from the latter.  Steps had to be taken.

I cleared all of the mulch and top layer of soil away from the base of the H.F. Young, and I immediately saw that its crown had rotted away, and that its roots were beginning to turn to mush.  This vine was a goner.  I’d waited too long to cut the infected stems back, and subsequently give the vine the opportunity to send up new growth while its root crown was still healthy.  The whole plant had essentially rotted away.

The takeaway: If you discover signs of stem rot in your clematis vines (it’s more common than you might think, particularly among the large-flowered varieties, like H.F. Young), hedge your bet and move the soil back and cut its stems back to just above crown level.  If the culprit is stem rot, you’ll have saved your vine’s life.  If it’s not stem rot that’s affecting your plant, you can always amend its soil and adjust its nutrition AFTER you cut it back to the ground.

I learned a painful lesson here.  The ultimate resolution involved the exhumation and removal of the earthly remains of my dead vine, and the purchase and planting of a brand new baby H.F. Young.  This new one’s a cute little guy.  It came from an excellent online nursery (the same place I got the first one), and it was tiny – just a little main stem and a few little leaves – but it had a root ball as big as a loaf of rye bread.  It’s currently doing well and is successfuly climbing up the garden arch it now calls home and is sharing with its cousin, the whopper Jackmanii vine.

July Garden Update
My late Clematis H.F. Young vine during the halcyon days of the spring of 2022.
The image on the left indicates the spot where I incorrectly believed my unfortunate Clematis H.F. Young was engaged in subterranean slumber (but was in truth a rotting corpse). At right is my new baby H.F. Young, which will be cut to the ground at the first sign of stem rot. Cin cin, little guy, alla vostra salute!
July Garden Update
My baby H.F. Young has made great progress over the spring and summer. It's made its way about 5 feet up its arch and it even produced a flower!

Parts Three and Four: Eeeek!!!  All of the Survivors in the July Garden Update Are Resurrected Corpses!!!

‘Mystic Spires Blue’ Salvia.  I’ve written about this plant twice.  In my above-referenced late winter pruning article, I discussed the pruning methodology I’d employed with this particular plant that I felt had contributed to its survival in my garden over the course of two fairly frigid zone 5B/6A winters (it’s generally considered to be hardy only down to zone 7).  I was pretty damned proud of myself, I’ve gotta admit…  Until I realized that it wasn’t coming back.  In my article of last month, ‘Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ – A Question of Hardiness,” I ate my words and reported that the cold 5B/6A winters had finally exacted their toll and wiped out my zone 7 salvia.  It’s never fun eating crow, but, as your humble garden servant, I felt it was my duty to report the realities of this situation.  And it is for that same reason – the “humble servant” thing – that I’m once again coming to you with a ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ update:  It lives!!!  Here’s how it went down…  

On a sunny day this past May, I’m digging up the “dead” MSB in order to replace it with one of its much hardier cousins, when all of a sudden I unearth a green root crown with a couple of green nodes sticking out of the top of it.  The MSB had made it through its third winter in zone 5B/6A – it was still alive!  But barely.  I could see where the cold had damaged part of its crown and root structure, in spite of the thick layer of mulch I loaded on top of it in the late fall.  The plant successfully made it through its first two 5B/6A winters, but the cold had really done a number on it over this most recent one.

So, what did I do?  I immediately planted the little survivor in a decent sized pot with fresh potting soil and a really light dose (and I do mean really light) of Espoma Plant-tone, placed it in a spot where it was sure to get massive amounts of sunlight, and kept it well-watered.  It’s responded beautifully and, even though it’s still much smaller than it would normally be at this point in the summer, it’s actually setting some buds! 

The takeaway: Despite its luck over the first two winters here in zone 5B/6A, this plant really is a zone 7 plant.  It should be grown as an annual here in my zone, or overwintered in a sheltered location.  I’ll attempt to keep this salvia alive over the winter by storing it in my garage (which never gets colder than 45° Fahrenheit over the winter).  Assuming it makes it through the winter, it will live the rest of its days safely in a transportable pot.  It will receive ample doses of sunlight and fresh air in the spring and summer, and darkness and cold – but not too cold – over the winter.  I’ll let you know how that’s all working out next spring.

July Garden Update
Although my 'Mystic Spires Blue' salvia is much smaller than it should be by this time of year, it did survive, and it's even set a couple of buds. My goal is to keep this guy around for a long time by growing it permanently in a container, and overwintering it in my garage.

‘Summer Snow’ Gardenia.  I wrote about this little bush in January of this year.  “How Cold Hardy Are Gardenias, Really?” laid out all of the info I could garner about a bad-assed, zero-degree-and-colder, hardy gardenia: the ‘Summer Snow.’  I talked about the plant’s development, its attributes, and its wintertime viability in my own 5B/6A garden.

I also described my methodology for planting it.  And, as that famous Danish prince once posited, there’s the effin’ rub…

I explained my steps for acidifying the gardenia’s soil, feeding it, and mulching it in preparation for the inevitable cold.  All good so far.  What I didn’t explain – because, damn it, I didn’t do it – was the implementation of my standard vole and chipmunk protection plan.  

Oh boy.

So, the plant made it through the winter just fine, as expected.  I even included some January status pics in the above-referenced article.  By the third week of February, the little guy was looking like it was poised for a spectacular return: its main stems were healthy and green, and there were some little greenish nodes looking to deliver some new stems and leaves.  I was psyched.  As advertised, this was one hardy gardenia.

But my mood, and the gardenia itself, took a turn for the worse on the very last day of February.  I went out to check on it that fateful morning, and almost broke down and cried like a baby: a vole, or more than likely voles, had made themselves a midnight snack of my little gardenia.  The plant’s main stems had been gnawed down to stubs just above the mulch line, and the fine outer covering of developing bark had been stripped off.  If I’d protected the bush properly when I’d first planted it, none of this would have happened.  I was more pissed off at myself than I was at the voles.  And that’s saying a lot (I really hate those cute little bastards).  

This is what my 'Summer Snow' gardenia looked like the day before I dug it up this past May. During the night before the last day in February, voles had chewed it down almost to the mulch line. I assumed it was dead - it sure looked that way - so I bought a rhododendron shrub to plant in its place and made my plan to exhume it.

I left the dead gardenia where it was for the rest of the winter.  I was just too bummed out to dig the poor thing up.  Self-loathing mixed with pity for the plant that I let down dominated my thoughts and blackened my mood, and the dead baby gardenia remained at the scene of its murder throughout March and April.  It wasn’t until May that I decided to finally exhume the little corpse and plant something big and bushy in its place.  I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a comparatively sizable rhododendron.  Rhodies seem to like it in my garden, so I grabbed a cool-looking one from the local nursery and made my dig-up-and-replace plan.

(This is the part where this July garden update really gets good.)

When I got the rhodie home, I still couldn’t bring myself to dig up the gardenia.  Still too bummed.  So I waited a couple of days, built up the resolve, and started unearthing.  The first thing I saw, once I moved the top layer of mulch away from the crown of the “dead” gardenia, was the bright green of the root crown itself, a bright green main stem, and some bright green nodes – the ‘Summer Snow’ was alive!  This little bush – and I mean this thing wasn’t much more than a seedling when it was first delivered to me back in the spring of 2022 – survived a winter that sported any number of subzero days and nights, AND a decimating vole attack.  Bad-assed little bush?  You betcha.

Into its own pot it went, along with more Espoma soil acidier, and a light feeding with Espoma’s Holly-tone evergreen food.  And there it thrives to this day.  I can tell you, with a fair amount of certainty, that the steps I initially took with this plant when I first bedded it – acidifying the soil and feeding it with one of my favorite Espoma fertilizer products – are what allowed it to survive the twin evils of a frigid winter and a pernicious vole visitation.  Shameless Espoma plug?  You bet your ass.

July Garden Updates
This is what I found when I dug the gardenia up: a very healthy stem base and root crown, and green, sprouting nodes.
July Garden Update
My 'Summer Snow' gardenia these days. Looks healthy and happy, no?

The ‘Summer Snow’ gardenia July garden update takeaway?  Three things: First, I’m keeping this guy in its pot for the rest of the summer and bringing it indoors over the winter where it can strengthen without compromise.  Second, if you want to try your luck with this beautiful, hardy gardenia, use the Espoma products (and the one non-Espoma product) I’m recommending here.  Your gardenia will thank you for it.  Third, I’m kicking myself in the ass for not taking my standard vole and chipmunk preventative measures.  (My answer to the question you might be asking yourselves: I was afraid I’d overwhelm the plant when it first went into the ground with too many additives.  I almost got it killed for my trouble.  Never again.)

Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier is the perfect product for lowering the pH and increasing the acidity of your garden’s soil.  It’s a fabulous organic formula which I’ve used to lower soil pH for plants like my blue hydrangeas and my rhododendrons, azalea, pieris, holly, and gardenia.  It’s very effective and allows acid-loving plants like these to properly access and utilize nutrients from fertilizing products.  Click the #advertisement link to order it here, from Amazon.

Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier

Click here to learn more or to order


Espoma Organic Holly-tone is the almost perfect fertilizer for acid-loving plants like gardenias, rhodies, azaleas, and pieris.  It’s an organic formulation with an N-P-K of 4-3-4, a multitude of beneficial microbes, and a respectable amount of sulfur (5%) on tap for performing its own bit of soil acidifying.  Like I said, it’s almost perfect.  And when it’s used in conjunction with the fertilizing product listed below, it is perfect.  Conveniently order it here, from Amazon, by clicking the #advertisement link.

Espoma Organic Holly-tone

Click here to learn more or to order


Ohrstrom’s Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed Plus Iron is a remarkable source of iron for acid loving plants.  When used in conjunction with Espoma Soil Acidifier and Espoma Holly-tone, it literally works miracles.  It’s got an N-P-K of 0-0-1 and it contains 2% iron.  It’s sourced from Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed harvested from the waters along Norway’s coastline.  The beneficial effects of this product are noticeable almost immediately after its application.  To learn more, or to order it here, from Amazon, click the #advertisement link.

Ohrstrom’s Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed Plus Iron

Click here to learn more or to order


My bags of Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier and Organic Holly-tone (next pic) are invaluable tools in my evergreen care arsenal. So is my jug of Ohrstrom's Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed Plus Iron (third pic). I won't let my evergreen bushes do without these products. I always keep a supply of each of them on hand.

Got All That? Good. 'Cause We're Done.

Well, alright.  You can move back from the edges of your seats, my gardening chums and chum-ettes.  This nail-biter is in the books.  My poor clematis vine died, but it’s been replaced by a new, healthy one, and my salvia and gardenia each returned from the dead to wax mighty once more.  According to the way I’ve tallied up the score of this here July garden update, it’s looking like an overall win. 

Believe me, I’ll take it.

Thanks for sticking around, and as always, thank you for your interest and your readership.

Cheers, and Happy Gardening!

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12 thoughts on “July Garden Update: Survivors, Bucket-kickers, and Re-animated Corpses”

    1. Bless your kind heart, Sue – thank you so much! I appreciate your reading the article, and your very kind words. I really must attribute a big part of these surprising rebounds to the resilience of the plants themselves. The folks that grow/develop/hybridize today’s ornamental plants are amazingly talented. And they’ve got access to all of the latest science behind the development of these modern plants. But I must admit that I believe that all plants really do know when they’re loved. Thanks once again, Sue!

  1. I enjoyed reading about your victories in this article. I believe your plants know how much you care about them and want them to be happy and healthy in your garden…that’s why they fight as hard as they do! All living things sense what a gentle soul you are! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh my gosh, Tina, this is so kind of you – thank you so much! I’m so glad you feel that way – I’m touched. I guess I do have a soft spot in my heart for all of the non-human citizens of our awesome planet. And that definitely includes plants! Thank you again, Tina. I can’t even begin to tell you how much your perception and keen insight mean to me. Bless your heart.

  2. What an amazing article..,, non-stop learning!!’
    Such extraordinary images of your flowers… I never have enough of admiring them…, such a magnificent garden.., A total delight!!!🌸🌺🌼

    1. Bless your kind heart, Roxxy – thank you so much! I appreciate your reading it, and I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. I can never thank you enough for your interest and your kindness. But I’ll try – thank you again, Roxxy!

  3. John, I’m thrilled for your victories and I mourn the loss of your clematis. The pictures of your garden are terrific. You have such a great variety of plants. I wanted you to know that I took your advice about the product you recommended to use to stop the deer from turning my garden into a salad bowl! I’m happy to report they have not bothered anything. They have, however, enjoyed my neighbor’s veggie garden!

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Kevin, and thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad that the systemic worked for you. I’m telling you, Kevin, before I started applying that stuff, EVERYTHING in the front garden was fair game. But once I started using it, the deer only ate the stuff I allowed them to eat. (I must admit, we’ve always spoiled our deer rotten – I feed them everything from apples to oats all winter long. Keeps ’em happy and comin’ back for more!) Thanks again!

    1. Thank you for reading the piece, Cathy. Yes, the ‘Summer Snow’ is pretty hardy. Exceptionally so, as far as gardenias are concerned. I loved mine so much, I bought another one. But I’ll be keeping both of mine indoors over the winter. I’ll probably sacrifice blooms next year, but at least they’ll have gained some momentum before I plant them. Thanks again, Cathy!

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