While perennials come and go all summer long a few make a big show and need a little attention after blooming to keep their good looks.
Lupines do well in our cooler climate but are absolute magnets for aphids. The best way to deal with them is to cut the entire flower stalk to the ground as soon as the flowers fade. New, attractive leaves will quickly regrow and you'll be able to enjoy the showy leaves all summer.
The trick to making peonies look their best is to prune them back pretty hard after flowering. It's obvious where the flowers were, huge seed heads are left behind. But rather than just cutting off the seed pods, use a pair of hand clippers to cut each flowering branch back by about half. By making the cut well into the leaf canopy the cut is hidden and the result is a well shaped shrub with no blunt, stubby branches.
Baptisia or false indigo is another shrub-like perennial that takes up even more space than my peonies. Both baptisia and peonies die to the ground over the winter so they don't have woody stems like true shrub, but they take up so much space on their own they're considered shrub-like in form. This is fine as long as you give them enough room
Both baptisia and peonies are long-lived and unlike most perennials they don't need or like to be divided. Choose the site carefully for either of these plants then sit back and watch the show.
Watch out for wild parsnip
Wild parsnip is just beginning to bloom along roadsides this week so here's my annual warning don't touch this plant! It causes huge, watery blisters on your skin that can leave scars that last for years. It's not quite as itchy as poison ivy but makes its victims just as miserable.
Be on the lookout; it's quite easy to see from your car along roadsides right now. It has yellow-green flat-topped flowers on upright plants about 30-36 inches tall. It reminds me of a yellowish Queen Anne's lace although up close the leaves are quite different.
Your skin needs to come into contact with the leaves and then be exposed to sunlight for the reaction to occur. Be especially careful when weed-whacking or using a push-mower. Wear long pants and long sleeves when working near this plant. Regular mowing will keep it in check but it reproduces by seed so it will keep coming back. For more information call our office or visit our Web site to see a picture.
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Cornell Cooperative Extension offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450, and Essex County, 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at http://ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.