Snow last week. Summer this week. I will not be surprised if spring comes in with a vengeance this April. Get ready. Those pesky weeds are already on the move. Ranunculus, a/k/a Lesser Celandine and Chickweed are already making a nuisance of themselves. I know I’ll have trouble keeping up.
Be on the lookout for the fiddleheads from your ferns. If you have Ostrich Ferns to spare, these fiddleheads are edible, especially when sautéed in a little butter. I’m looking forward to a beautiful spring, and the promise of a new year.
DO…spread Holly-Tone within the drip edge of all your BROADLEAF EVERGREENS, and other acid-loving plants.
DO…spread Plant-Tone within the drip edge of all other plants, but I usually limit myself to a liberal broadcast among all of my PERENNIALS.
DO YOU HAVE HOSTAS OR OTHER LARGE LEAF PLANTS?….If you have ever noticed holes in the leaves, this is usually caused by slugs. Ortho makes a product called Slug Bait which you broadcast over the area, and is effective for several weeks before reapplication is necessary. Another good option is to create a continuous ring around the base of the plant with DIATOMACEOUS EARTH. This fine white or off-white powder is the ground fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It causes the slugs to dehydrate and die. I generally find that one application in the beginning of the season is all that is needed. After 1 or 2 rains, the white ring is no longer visible. Be sure to use gloves when handling this substance.
HELLEBORUS…DO remove foliage from last season. This winter it took a beating, and the foliage is already in bad shape.
HYDRANGEAS…Folks are always asking when to cut back the Hydrangeas. First, it’s important to know which ones you have. The Annabelle Hydrangea/Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, blooms in late spring on new wood. This should be cut back to 12-18” HT now in order to encourage the really large flower heads you love. If you forget to cut them back, the plant will be fine, but the flower heads will be a bit smaller. The Oakleaf Hydrangea / Hydrangea quercifolia blooms in the spring, and pruning should wait until after flowering. The Bigleaf Hydrangea/ Hydrangea macrophylla tends to be the most popular since it blooms in the summer and appears to stay in bloom all summer long. The older varieties bloom on second year wood, and I normally prune these in August/September in order to give the plant time to set new flower buds before winter hits. There is an exception to this rule. Wait until the buds start to break in the spring, and then cut back to just before a healthy bud break. A few seasoned gardeners have enjoyed success with this method. The H. macrophylla that blooms on first and second year wood such as the ‘Endless Summer’ cultivars can be pruned now or August/September. PeeGee type Hydrangea/ Hydrangea paniculata is a late summer/early fall bloomer, and is best hard pruned in the early spring. These flower on new wood.
SPRING CLEANUP….A thorough spring cleanup now will greatly reduce the maintenance all summer long. Freshen up the bed edge, rake, weed and apply 3 inches of SHREDDED BARK MULCH. Resist the urge to buy the dye-colored mulch. You want the mulch to decompose over time, and the additional chemicals can’t be good for the plants or the environment.
SPRING FLOWERING BULBS….When the flowers start to fade, remove the flower stem close to the base (a form of DEAD HEADING). This prevents the plant from spending a lot of energy on the development of seeds. DO allow the foliage to remain for as long as you can stand it so that the plant will be able to manufacture food that will be sent down to feed the bulb for next year. Some people have hundreds or thousands of daffodils and other bulbs which makes it impractical to dead head. In this case, it’s best just to leave the entire plant alone until the foliage starts to turn yellow, and then cut it back to the ground.
POISON IVY…The foliage has yet to appear, but you can get the rash from the root system or vine stems. It’s easy to identify the large, hair vine climbing up a tree. It’s much harder to identify the small fibrous root system lying dormant just beneath the surface. A good rule of thumb is to assume that some of the roots encountered are Poison Ivy, and act accordingly.
PRECAUTIONS TO TAKE WHEN WORKING WITH POISON IVY
Wear gloves, long-sleeve shirt, long pants, socks and shoes. Be careful not to wipe or scratch any areas of exposed skin while working. Tuck in your shirt so you won’t touch your abdomen by mistake. After working, place all clothes immediately in the washing machine, and take a shower. This will greatly reduce the impact of any contact. The oils will remain active on clothing for several hours at least. I rub my work gloves and work boots with dirt before entering the house to remove the oil.
The rash is caused by the skin’s reaction to the plant’s oil, urushiol. For effective treatment, you must first remove the urushiol oil to keep it from spreading, and also apply an anti-itch treatment to alleviate the painful, itchy rash symptoms. After exposure, there are a few products currently on the market that have proven helpful to many gardeners, such as TechNu Extreme, Fast Orange and Zanfel. Some of my fellow gardeners have had success with TechNu Extreme and Fast Orange. I tried Zanfel last year, and found it to be very effective. My neighbor swears by Dawn dishwashing liquid. Since I always have a bottle of this on hand, I use this as well.
DOES THE RASH SPREAD?
No. Once the rash appears on your body, the rash will not spread. The delayed exposure of other areas of the skin is usually due to contact with oils remaining on clothing, and will give the impression that the rash is spreading. Once the rash appears, my treatment of preference is the liberal application of Caladryl Lotion several times a day. This seems to temporarily relieve the itch and also promotes drying of the rash.