My garden is still fast asleep. I’ll take this as a good sign. The deer have been voracious, and I’ve resigned myself to finally giving up and replacing many of my Rhododendron with plants they should leave alone. The never-ending battle for survival of the fittest.
The huge amount of precipitation has been a challenge all year, and I anticipate that this challenge will continue for quite some time. I’m chalking it up to climate change.
Are the buds of your Hydrangea macrophylla nice and plump and starting to push out new growth? If so, those buds are likely to be ruined if we get some freezing days. In years past, I’ve recommended covering these Hydrangeas with a sheet to try to protect the buds. DON’T BOTHER. We experimented with some covered and some uncovered, and there was no difference in the results. The other Hydrangeas should make it through unscathed. If you’ve had it with the H. macrophylla, try Hydrangea aborescens or Hydrangea paniculate. These have yet to be bothered by the fickle conditions of February and March.
Don’t forget to harvest some of the FIDDLE HEADS from your patch of Ostrich Fern. Saute and serve with your next meal. They are a real treat.
WARNING…The warm weather, if we are lucky enough to see some of that, also encourages us to spend time in our gardens. If you are sensitive to Poison Ivy, treat each outing as though the vines and roots you encounter are actually Poison Ivy in its dormant state. Wear long sleeves, wash with Dawn, and immediately put garden clothing in the wash. Use clean dirt to ‘wash’ gloves and boots.
The DEER have been voracious this past month, and will continue their destruction in March as well. Spray everything on the first sunny day we have. Be on the lookout for browsing in case you will need to take more drastic measures. Check your deer netting for holes. In one case, the deer made a slit near the bottom, and came in under the fence.
MARCH IS ALWAYS A BUSY TIME OF YEAR in the garden. In addition to clearing out all of the debris from the winter, it is also time to cut back many plants.
CUT BACK TO 3”- 6” in height any ornamental grasses or perennials that became dormant over the winter. Usually, the foliage has turned tan, brown or black. If unable to cut back Ornamental Grasses this much, just do what you can. Now is also a good time to prune the old foliage from the Helleborus hybridus, even before it turns black. This will make the blooms even more prominent. One year, I tried cutting back a few of my evergreen varieties of Carex, and I was very disappointed by the effort. The old leaves may collapse, but they also do a great job of holding in the moisture around the base of the plant. Experiment with your own, and determine which you prefer.
SOME TREES AND SHRUBS WILL BENEFIT FROM SIGNIFICANT PRUNING at this time. Annabelle Hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, Crepe Myrtle, Caryopteris, Hypericum, Nandina, Redtwig Dogwood and Butterfly Bush are among this group. For the shrubs, cutting back to 12 – 18” in height is usually sufficient. For the trees such as Hyd. paniculata and Crepe Myrtle, removing the outer 12 – 36” can usually be tolerated. Over time, you will determine how much pruning suits your style. If you want to encourage your Smokebush to have a more full, shrub-like habit, cut this back to about 3 – 6” in height. This will promote lots of new branches from the base, but may take 2 years before it reaches a 3’ height. You can hard prune Nandina domestica to almost any height, and by the end of April, the new foliage will completely obscure the surgery.
DO NOT PRUNE SPRING FLOWERING trees and shrubs until after they have bloomed.
WRAPPED EVERGREENS…If you have wrapped evergreens to protect them during the winter, do WAIT until the end of March to unwrap. The really wet snows usually arrive in March, and cold winds will bring the Leaf Burn you are trying to prevent.
BOXWOOD, DWF. ALBERTA SPRUCE and ARBORVITAE rarely make it through any winter unscathed. Spreading is the most common problem. Do not waste your time trying to rejuvenate these. The best you can do is to tie them up internally, or simply replace the plant. Some branches have been bent for so long, and are so brittle that they will break when you attempt to tie them up. If this happens to you, make a clean cut near the break. If you can tolerate the plant’s new shape, then let it be. If not, then remove the offensive specimen.
Boxwood will rejuvenate if the wood receives direct sunlight, but the process is slow. If you prune with the ‘swiss cheese’ method, sunlight will reach some of those inner branches, encouraging foliage beyond the outer 6” of the plant. This method is also recommended if your goal is to significantly reduce the size of the plant.
One of the best times to TRANSPLANT SPRING FLOWERING BULBS is while they are flowering. With the flowers still visible, you will have a much easier time determining their new location. The only downside is that the blooms this season may not last as long due to the trauma of being moved. Bulbs that have migrated under shrubs should be among the first to be relocated.
IF YOU NEED HELP, it’s not too late to contact a landscape contractor to help with the spring cleanup. A thorough cleanup, new spade cut bed edges and a fresh layer of mulch greatly improve the ease of garden maintenance throughout the growing months. Be careful not to smother newly emerging bulbs and perennials. If you have a lot of perennials in your garden, postpone mulching until after the foliage has emerged.
IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION about a particular shrub or perennial in your garden, please feel free to send me an e-mail. I will respond promptly. If you don’t remember the name of the plant, send me some photos.
Stay warm, and remember, you can always call if you have any questions.