It’s time for an audit

Newly planted Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

There comes a time in every gardener’s life when it’s time for an audit – and July is a good time, as some plants are working beautifully in the garden, whereas others are a disaster. In July, plants either live up to their promise or merely hang in there due to the harsh summer conditions. Have we grown disenchanted with some of them? This is a question we must frequently ask ourselves.

I grow lots of phlox as this native plant can perform well in the month of July when our heat and humidity are at their worst. Yet, after years of putting up with powdery mildew on their foliage, I have begun to rid the garden of some of these culprits.

Originally, I had two huge groups of P. paniculata ‘John Fanick’, a phlox that was reputed to be as tough as nails because it had survived with no care at a Texas service station. The butterflies loved it, I, too, loved it when it came into bloom, as it had a pleasing aroma. It bloomed in July, always a tough month to produce flowers. Still, there was a severe drawback: It developed a terrible case of powdery mildew as soon as the last bloom departed, leaving two huge clumps suddenly turning into eyesores.

These two huge, blemished areas would last until the phlox were either cut back hard, leaving unattractive stumps, or the first frost arrived. I have strong feelings about eyesores and gardens, as they do not constitute a good mix. Finally, last August, I removed ‘John Fanick’, resolving to replace it with a phlox that was impervious to powdery mildew. I have never found an effective method for resolving powdery mildew except through removal of the offensive plant.

This year, I replaced ‘John Fanick’ with ‘Jeana’, the phlox that won rave reviews in Mt. Cuba’s phlox trial. At the majestic cost of $400 (20 x $20 = $400), I now have twenty spindly plants that (hopefully) will eventually fill the two large areas. These have faithfully been nurtured through the June heat dome and drought.

However, sadly, the tale of powdery mildew is not over.

Another large patch of phlox – ‘Delta Snow’ – one that is described in the old Niche Gardens 2019 catalog as being “very mildew resistant,” is now covered with powdery mildew – and it hasn’t even bloomed yet. Sorrowfully, as I’ve had it for ten years, it’s coming out, leaving an empty patch that I can replace in the fall. Why did ‘Delta Snow’ get powdery mildew so early in the growing season? Blame it on that dry heat dome we experienced for most of June as it provided ripe conditions for this fungal disease.

Some roses, taking up valuable real estate, must come out as they haven’t performed well. ‘Gypsy Soul’ produced only three glorious blooms during the entire growing season – surely roses should generate more than three flowers – while ‘Beverly’, a rose that presents itself beautifully for others, is a spindly excuse of a rose for me. They are coming out as I have given them three years to prove themselves, all to no avail. I also have a climbing rose that requires drastic pruning as it insists on growing on top of my carport roof. Because I value new roofs, eventually, we might have to remove this rose.

Japanese roof irises, Iris tectorum, on the march. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Then there are the plants that are intent on roaming. I rarely notice my Japanese roof irises, Iris tectorum, after they have finished their bloom cycle until they begin their march to overtake the world. As they are so easy to pull out, I do not consider them a pest – and in the presence of other plants, they contain themselves beautifully in the perennial borders. However, give them an inch of space and they will take advantage of any unoccupied territory. Consequently, every July I suddenly spy their invasions, taking out half of them.

The truth is this: Plants and I can sometimes hold diametrically opposed opinions on proper plant behavior. I gave up on monardas because while I was always careful to choose varieties resistant to powdery mildew, I managed to choose varieties that happily wanted to overtake the world. I even searched out a compact monarda that assured me it would remain in place. It didn’t travel – I will give it that – but (and this is a huge but) it decided not to grace my hospitality the following year by its failure to return.

Look around to see if any plants require staking. All my lilies require help as they can lean or break from the weight of their blooms. Staking, while not much fun, is an essential part of good garden grooming.

Our climate is changing, so a garden audit is essential halfway through the growing season. Just as we need an occasional financial audit for information, a garden audit tells us a lot about the conditions in our gardens. Yes, audits are not intrinsically interesting – but they are occasionally necessary.

Hint: A while ago, Jim Massey of the late departed and lamented Holly Hill Daylily Farm, recommended Deer Stopper deer spray. Because I have a fence that serves as an effective barrier, I never bothered to purchase it, but I did pass along this information to a dear friend. She reported back to me that it was extremely effective. Try it, as it might also work for you.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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1 Comment on "It’s time for an audit"

  1. Caroline McGaughey | July 9, 2024 at 3:06 pm | Reply

    PD-5 programme from natural he rbs centr e has done wonders for me. I even learned a few simple exercises I do daily to keep my back from hurting. It didn’t take very long before I started to get relief.

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