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Midsummer blues: Sparklers in July garden

Blue hydrangea
Blue hydrangeas are just starting to bloom. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

This flower hue adds vibrance to summer landscape

Stokesia comes in many cool
Blue ranks among the rarest colors in the summer garden. Yet it's a beautiful contrast to all of July's other brilliant colors, especially yellow and orange.

Blue stands out in the landscape, immediately drawing your attention. Bees seem to gravitate to it, too.
The one trait most blue flowers share is they contain anthocyanin, the same pigment that makes blueberries blue.

As an accent or in broad borders, blue blooms complete a flowery summer rainbow. An Independence Day bouquet wouldn't have the same sparkle without some blue.

Just in time for Fourth of July and midsummer, here are the blues blooming in my Sacramento garden right now:

Hydrangeas: My true blues are just coming into their bloom cycle. By late July, they'll be covered with great soft mounds of baby blue. Formerly pink hydrangeas can go blue, too, by slightly increasing the acidity of their soil.

This low-growing perennial blooms from early July until frost. It comes in several shades of vivid blue from powder to deep cobalt. My variety: Blue Frills from Proven Winners. It contrasts beautifully with orange coppertips ( Crocosmia ) and yellow daylilies. Stokesia also makes a good cut flower; pair it with white daisies and red roses or gladiolas for a charming red-white-blue bouquet.

lilies of the Nile
Agapanthus blossoms attract bees.
Lilies of the Nile:
My huge agapanthus clumps came with the house. But the bees love them, so they stayed put. Every Fourth of July, the gigantic flowerheads look like blue fireworks exploding among the roses. Another plus: They make good cut flowers and add the blue to my Independence Day bouquets. The dried stems also are attractive in arrangements.

Borage, a blue herb, has edible flowers.
This blue herb is a bee favorite in my vegetable garden and the intensely blue (and slightly spicy) flowers are edible. Use them as decorations on cakes and cupcakes.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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