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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 June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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