Dear clients and Friends,
I look out the windows of my little cottage and I see full spring unfolding. Every day, the houses on the hillsides behind my house are more hidden by the chartreuse leaves on the huge, deciduous trees. Tulip poplars, oaks, and beech trees are beginning to shade the Bloodgood Japanese maples, dogwoods, and then the next layers of shrubs and perennials below. My garden is a garden of layers, as all gardens should be. Waves of color have and will come and go over the next few weeks until the garden settles into a deep green of textures for the summer.
Each morning, early, I carry my coffee through my garden to see what’s happened overnight. Things suddenly appear that I’d completely forgotten from last year—what a treat. I begin to formulate my day as I walk, and attempt to make mental notes of all the garden tasks that need to be accomplished.
Later, at the end of my day, I stroll through again, this time with pruners in hand. At this time of year, my focus is to cut out any dead wood I see and pull any weeds that appear before they get away from me. Shaping my shrubs will come later in the season, once the new growth has begun to mature.
There’s to be a wedding in my garden in late May. The young bride- and groom-to-be will say their vows by my waterfall. Preparations are underway. This will add another layer of magic to this already magical place.
By now, you should be busy in your garden.
Full spring is here, the weather has warmed, and being outside is a delight. Here are some things on which to focus:
Clean-up—Clean out all dead leaves, branches, etc., and dispose of them. Cut back all the dead tops of your perennials; most of them should be emerging. Some are later to come up, though, so don’t be alarmed. Also, pull up all the dead annuals from last year that you may not have removed.
Trimming/pruning—First of all, trim all the dead wood out of everything. If you are not sure if a plant is dead or not, WAIT. Just be sure to give the plant time to bud out before you hack it back. It may be June before you can be certain (crapemyrtles, for instance, are notorious for leafing out late). You should also have a good tree care person to take care of your trees. Keep them on retainer—it’s worth it! Here are some general guidelines for pruning: Things that bloom in the spring—for example, forsythia, lilac, azaleas, dogwoods, camellias—prune after they finish blooming, as severely as you’d like. Be sure to finish this spring pruning by the 4th of July or so since all these things will set their buds this summer for next year on the new growth produced this year. Things that bloom in the summer—for example, crapemyrtle, summer spireas, rose of Sharon, summer hydrangeas (‘Annabelle’, but not the blue/pink macrophyllas—mopheads and lacecaps)—prune now as severely as you’d like. These bloom off the new growth produced this spring. Things like clematis, hydrangeas, roses—these particular plants can vary on their pruning rules even by variety or type, so best to look up before you cut and sacrifice the bloom. Often, the reason plants don’t bloom is because they were pruned at the wrong time. Non-blooming plants, deciduous or evergreen—you have a lot more leeway here and you can prune almost anytime. But remember, with all pruning (like anything else) there are exceptions to the general rules. When in doubt, check before you cut.
Fertilizing—The big feeding of the year on lawns is usually in the fall since that’s when it’s most beneficial. If you want to feed in the spring, a weed and feed product is good to hold back the broadleaf weeds. Also, don’t forget to put down pre-emergent crabgrass control ASAP—blooming forsythia is your signal to get busy on the crabgrass control, and the forsythia is almost finished blooming for the year. Shrubs, groundcovers, landscape plants—I usually only fertilize when I think a plant could use a boost—if a plant looks vigorous and healthy, I don’t bother. If I do fertilize, I like to use Woodace, Plant Tone, and Holly Tone. Old-fashioned 5-10-5 and 10-10-10 work well, too. These last two work well in the annual and perennial beds, too. You could also use well-rotted (important, so you don’t burn your plants) manure or compost for your vegetable and annual beds. For pots, I use Osmocote. It’s time-released and lasts the season. With all these, follow the instructions on the sack so you don’t burn the plants. If your plants’ leaves are yellow with the green veins showing, they probably need iron—very common in plants like azaleas, gardenias, and other acid-loving plants. Use Ironite or a chelated iron product you can spray on.
Edging and mulching—Re-edge your beds with a spade so the edges are nice and crisp, then mulch with no more than 2-3 inches of hardwood, pine bark or pine straw (needles). Hardwood mulch binds together best, so it won’t wash as much in hilly areas. The bigger the chip on the pine bark, the more it floats and the harder it is to plant annuals through it (you’ll find the trowel stabs the chips!!) Make sure you don’t have the mulch up against tree trunks and stems of plants—plants need to breathe and there is a lot of oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange going on where the trunk/stem meets the soil. If you have many layers of old mulch already in place, you may want to rake some of that out, or just very lightly top dress. Studies have shown that a too-deep mulch layer turns into a “false soil” layer; the roots of a plant will grow easily in this layer and not go deeply into the soil underneath the mulch. This is not good because that thick mulch layer does not have the nutrients of the soil below. This can result in deficiencies—a common one is the iron deficiency I mentioned above.
Weed prevention—We like to use a product called Preen on the beds after we mulch. It’s not a cure-all, but it sure does go a long way in helping to prevent weed growth. It’s a pre-emergent, so it zaps the weed seeds as they are beginning to emerge. And it will zap any seeds coming up, so not a good idea to use it in areas you are seeding, like vegetable and annual beds. Know this about the herbicide Roundup, too: it is non-selective, so if you spray to control weeds, it will kill EVERYTHING in its path. It’s works through the plant, not the soil, to kill it. Once the Round-up has dried, you can immediately plant in the area. But be careful what you hit when spraying. You don’t want to lose a prized plant.
Planting times--It’s perfectly fine to plant all trees and shrubs, and most perennials now. We’ve started. Annuals—Tender annuals (like begonias, marigolds, zinnias, etc,) shouldn’t go in until the ground warms and the chance of frost has passed. This is on average April 25th in the DC area—later to the North and West, earlier to the South and East of the city. I wait until early May or so in my own garden and before planting tender annuals in clients’ gardens. You will not gain anything by planting early for two reasons: the chance of frost; and the plants will sulk and not grow in too-cold ground. Vegetables—cool-season things can go in still--broccoli, radishes and most root crops, greens, etc.—but hurry. Wait until May 1 or later for tender vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, okra, corn, beans, etc. They like hot soil.
Wait for warmer weather (early to mid-May) to apply sealers to stone and water features. The air temperatures and stones need to be consistently warm for the sealers to penetrate and work best.
Houseplants—It’s almost time to move your houseplants outside for the summer, if you wish. I wait until early May. The nighttime temperatures have moderated and the leaves on the trees have matured enough to create some shade so my houseplants won’t burn when I first put them out. If you don’t have shade, break them in, gently and slowly, to the sun, otherwise they will sunscald and the leaves will turn brown.
Next Story> No Impatiens this Year
IN THIS ISSUE: