April brings out the eager gardener in everyone. We want to get out there and cutback perennials, prune shrubs and putter about in the sunshine. Here are a few essential tips for opening your flowering gardens this spring.
Tip one: Understand your soil
Don’t rush spring. It’s important to wait until the soil in your garden is warm and dry. Working a garden that is still cold and wet can lead to soil compaction. That’s bad! Walking on cold, wet soil crushes soil pore spaces – those are little pockets of air between soil particles. Crushed soil pore spaces can lead to soil compaction. When it rains or you water, it will run off your garden instead of percolating into the soil.
Tip two: Clean out winter debris
Ideally, just as spring bulbs start to pop up it is time to clean debris from your flowering gardens. This includes removing matted down leaves, last year’s perennial stems and ornamental grass blades. Remember, lots of beneficial insects, including tiny native bees and predators, spend the winter hunkered down in hollow plant stems either as adults or pupae. Cutting down dead plant stems too early in the spring can disturb them before they have had a chance to emerge.
I use my hand to rake matted leaves (I wear a glove) from my gardens instead of using a formal garden rake. By using my hand to rake debris, I’m able to leave as much garden mulch intact as possible. This in turn saves me money in mulch replacement.
Cut back perennial stems using sharp pruners; while ornamental grasses blades can be cut back using sharp hedge clippers. Neither needs cutting right back to the ground to the crown of the plant. Cut back perennials to about three inches from the ground. Ornamental grasses at a height of six inches is more than adequate.
Tip three: Tidy up shrubs
Most flowering shrubs require a bit of a ‘tidy up’ rather than a ‘cut it all down’ prune in spring. If your shrubs have been in the ground less then three years, spring clean-up is a breeze. Here’s what you need to do:
- Remove any broken branches or stems with sharp pruners.
- Remove any dead (last season’s) blooms.
- Remember, if it flowers in the spring (April, May or June) now is not the time to prune. Prune after they bloom. Spring blooming shrubs set flower buds in the fall. A hard spring pruning can remove or damage new flowers. Here is a short list of shrubs that flower in spring.
- Shrubs that bloom in the summer (July, August and September) are safe to prune now, as they set flower buds in the spring. Here’s a short list of summer blooming shrubs.
- Rose of Sharon
If you’re not sure of what or how to tidy your shrubs, shoot me an email.
Tip four: Weed, weed and weed
Garden weeds that appear in the spring are easy to remove because they have shallow roots. You can simply pull small weeds by hand or use an old table fork (this works really well) to get weeds out. Very clever! Weeds can be cultivated using a sharp hoe to slice the undesired plant just below the soil line so they shrivel up and die. For larger more developed weeds, you will need to get the shovel to dig out and attack weeds at their roots. Note: For smaller weed removal, garden soil should be a bit damp for best results. However, for weed removal using a garden hoe or shovel, it best to wait until soil is warm and gardens are dry. “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.” ~ J.L.W. Brooks
Tip five: Feed your plants and water well
Trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses need fuel to produce luxurious blooms, sturdy stems and vigorous leaves. Late May is the perfect time to apply a well-balanced granular fertilizer (15-15-15) to plants. There is no need to purchase fertilizer for every type of plant in your yard. A balanced fertilizer is all you need. Fertilizer can be applied around the plant root zone (side-dress) with perennials, which need only a couple tablespoons of feed. Large, mature trees do best with between two to three cups of fertilizer. Make sure to not allow fertilizer granules to cluster in the crown of the plants, as it may cause burning. Water in fertilizer well after feeding.
Tip six: Mulch has a job
Mulching helps retain soil moisture by providing a protective layer between soil, sun and drying winds. It keeps soil cool, helps prevent crusting and leaching and inhibits the growth of weed seeds. Natural organic mulches add humus, as soil organisms like earthworms break it down. This organic waste (soil aggregates) helps build soil structure. So mulching is a good thing. And gives your flowering gardens a professional, finished look.
In the spring, it’s important to move (or fluff) your mulch. I know right? What happens is mulch compresses with the weight of snow leaving a crust on the top. Moving mulch around in the spring, breaks up this crest layer and allows water to flow through to the soil. If mulch is not uncrested, water will simply run off leaving plants thirsty. Once you have moved the mulch around, you might find spots with little or no mulch. Now is the time to top up mulch to a depth of two to three inches in all garden areas.
Enjoy the lovely spring weather by getting out in your gardens. Landscapes for Living!
Dearborn Designs & Associates | Advanced Master Gardener | Certified Horticulturist