Now that the days are getting longer and the temperature is warming up a little, it is time to start thinking about tidying up your garden and getting it ready to plant. Garden centers are starting to bring in wonderful perennials, shrubs, and trees that are looking for new homes. Removing dead wood from shrubs and leaves from those corners where the wind has taken them is a task that needs to be done. Planning and preparing is the key to a successful garden.
I try to get beds ready before plants arrive. I spend time during the late fall and winter deciding what is lacking or needed in the garden. Then I like to get the soil turned and amended. I use a product called Gardener’s Choice, rich dirt that is mainly composted leaves, which is a great additive. This “black gold” helps lighten the mineral rich red clay that is present in our area. Amending the soil breaks up the hard pan and lets water go into the soil easier. Plants and vegetables need good soil in order to produce dazzling flowers and tasty vegetables.
I talked with my friend, Michael Dirr, author and plant expert, who told me he was working with his son Matt and what fun they had visiting while pruning, cleaning up, and planting. Michael said he was, “like a squirrel when working in the garden. Racing from one area to the next, never quite completing the entire task. Unfortunately, the body quits before the finish line.”
I told him I felt the same way. I started out the morning with a goal of going from bed to bed cleaning and pruning each area, but then got sidetracked getting a bed ready for some perennials that needed to get planted.
I have been spending a lot of time in the garden getting up limbs that were damaged in December. Campobello was hard hit with ice and snow and we have had to do a lot of cleaning up. This has taken some of my time that I would have been doing other things.
Now that I have finally gotten this behind me, I am working on pruning a small hedge of boxwoods around a fountain. These little plants looked frazzled and a good trim will make a world of difference. It always amazes me how a little shaping, plus weeding and putting down pine needles can make a bed look better. This made a big difference to the entrance of the garden.
I am planning on cutting back some dead limbs and branches in different plants in the garden this week and finishing the task of going from bed to bed, cleaning and pruning. It is easier to cut back and clean up before the old growth gets tangled up in the newly developing leaves.
This is a good time of year to give bushes and trees a light sprinkling of a balanced fertilizer. I use a mixture of cottonseed meal, dehydrated cow manure, and a dash of Epsom salt. This is a slow release mixture and will not burn the plants. I do not fertilize spring blooming shrubbery until after they bloom. Fertilizing azaleas at this time of year will put the plants energy into new growth and may result in more leaves and less flowers.
Also, if you are not sure when to prune, a good rule to follow for almost any shrubbery is to prune plants after they bloom. Many plants bloom on old wood and if you prune shortly after they bloom, you will not be cutting off the buds that will start forming for the following years flowers. This may sound tricky to some, but it is quite easy to remember. BUT, if I am doing major pruning, and not concerned about the flowers, I prune in February before the plant starts sending out new growth. Sometimes a plant has to be pruned hard and it could interfere with the blooms.
There are some plants that flower on new wood; lavender, caryopteris, buddleia, Artemisia, to name a few. These are pruned in the spring after the danger of a hard frost. This will encourage the plant to put out new flowering branches.
Most evergreens do not require pruning, just a little shaping is usually all that is needed. However, you can prune evergreen shrubs just before new growth starts to form. Do this after the risk of a late freeze has passed. The new growth that will come shortly will conceal any scars that are present from pruning.
Now do not forget about planting a few vegetables. Planting a spring vegetable garden will pay off in big dividends. Now is a good time to get that ground ready to put in a few vegetables that prefer to be planted when the ground is still cool. Spring temperatures are a little too cool for most vegetables but there are a handful of hardy performers that can go in the garden now. Lettuce, spring onions, spinach and beets are plants that love to be planted while the ground is still a little cool.
Enjoy these warm days and cherish being outside and accomplishing some task that are needed. Take a small area and get it all cleaned up so that you can see that you have achieved your goal. When I do this, I get great satisfaction seeing that I have accomplished something and it helps encourage me to keep working. Happy Gardening everyone!
-- Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org