Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Timely Tips for Spring Garden Cleanup

Are you itching to get out and start playing in your garden? Me too. It's time to: prune, mulch, stake and most important - plant! Here are a few things to consider as you head out in Slogger-shod feet and West County Rose gloved-hands armed with Felco pruners.

Snow Mold
1. Lawns - Check turf for this winter's gift - snow mold! You can't miss it (see picture). Symptoms look worse than their long term effect. Snow mold will disappear with fertilization and light raking once the ground warms and dries a bit more. Don't rake in deep shade where shallow-rooted fescues reside. You may pull them up and out. Fungicides are unnecessary.

Vole Tunnels
2. Voles - Yes, that's a "V", not an "M". This picture was taken in mid-March as the snow receded. My lawn has never had vole damage before, although I've railed about their potential winter damage on trees and shrubs for years. It looks as though I'll be raking, tamping lightly and reseeding areas of my back yard as soon as the soil thaws more.

Northwind Switchgrass
3. Perennial cleanup - For those gardeners that didn't get out the scythe (just kidding, I use pruners, too, I do) last fall the time has come. Try to begin cutting back before the days get too warm and new growth starts emerging in last year's stem residue. You may need to remove winter tattered foliage ("deadleafing") rather than doing a to-the-ground cut back on some evergreen perennials like Bergenia, Heuchera and Hellebores, for example. Don't cut back creeping Phlox, Oriental poppy and Iberis, or you'll be out of luck.

4. Perennial support - Don't forget last year's promise to yourself to get the cages, hoops and "grow through" plant supports on early. Remember trying to wrestle those 3' tall peonies into their cages? Gardening is much more fun when we're proactive with this very necessary task. This may even apply to shrubs. Let's get those 'Annabelle' Hydrangeas contained early so their beautiful ivory heads aren't resting on the ground this year.

5. Slug prevention - You know which of your prized perennials are attacked by slugs every year. At spring cleanup simply apply earth-friendly Sluggo (it's iron phosphate) around the crowns of susceptible Hosta, Ligularia and other slug-victims. They ingest it, stop feeding, and pass on to Hosta heaven before they reproduce. If applied preventatively it's really easy to have beautiful unblemished perennials.

Spring Break Tulip
6. Spring bulbs - Deer and rabbits  won't touch daffodils. Tulips are a three course meal. Foliage, buds, flowers- all fair game. While you can erect physical barriers that sort of negates the idea of a beautiful color display to welcome spring. However, there are a number of great repellents that can be applied so your garden can look like a slice of Holland. Both Bonide's Repels-All and Plantskyyd repellents come in granules to apply to soil, or liquid to spray directly on plant parts. They work! Don't forget to fertilize your bulbs this spring, either as they emerge or as they finish flowering.

7. Roses - Don't be tempted to remove winter protection too early. Don't be afraid to prune roses (other than climbers, species roses, and some shrub roses) hard. Even if my roses have green canes 15" or more I cut them back to an outward facing bud, leaving the stems (canes) only 4-8" tall. What rosarians say about pruning hard and getting more new basal branches is true. You'll also be removing overwintering black spot spores that lurk in old leaves and canes.

8. Soil preparation - Plant performance is all about soil, soil, soil. Spring cleanup and planting is the perfect opportunity to enhance your soil, especially if your garden has dense clay. Take this time to topdress annual, veggie and perennial beds with compost, leaf mulch or dehydrated manure. This can be cultivated in, or in the case of new beds rototilled or spaded in. After a couple of years of this TLC soils will start showing big structural improvements- and your plants will respond accordingly.

9. Weed prevention - Many weeds (especially annuals, the ones that grow for only one season) can be thwarted with pre-emergent weed control. After you've done whatever raking or cleaning you're going to do in beds (especially those with bare soil) apply the granules. Water in or lightly cultivate the granules into the soil surface. Understand that you're preventing weeds, not killing those that have germinated and are growing. Read directions carefully and fully BEFORE application to get maximum results!

10. Mulch- The tests have been done, the results universally show that virtually all plants perform with better, more vigorous growth if they're mulched. Spring is the time to get that organic matter down (leaf mulch, cotton burr compost, shredded pine or hardwood bark, etc). Remember you're mulching roots, not stems. So, try and leave mulch-free zones immediately adjacent to annual and perennial stems, and "trunks" of trees and shrubs. While mulch will dramatically deter weed growth you can apply pre-emergent weed control to the surface of mulches, if you like.

Emerging Tete-a-Tete Daffodils

Let the planting, mulching, pruning and staking begin!