Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to
firstname.lastname@example.org - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."
Early Spring Gardening Tips
(March - Early April)
With the promise of warming temperatures, we can seriously begin work on the spring garden. Experts tell us that the above average temperatures this winter promise an abundance of plant diseases and insects during the growing season, so be on the look out for such outbreaks and take action!
There was not sufficient cold weather to kill the various disease agents and insects. Roses, for example, are probably going to be subject to increased instances of black spot. And I bet we will see an increased mosquito population.
Grasses, Liriope, and "Mondo" Grass
Now is the time to shear off the top of liriope if you have not already done so. If you cut the tops after new growth begins, you have "blunted" foliage. Shear the tops (depending on the number of plants you have) with clippers, hedge shears, or a weeding, string device.
The same procedure should be followed for ornamental grasses. New growth on both liriope and grasses begins early. Fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer and rake it into the soil around the plants.
There are several varieties of liriope (thrives as a ground cover in dry shade) which include variegated (yellow and green) or black foliage, and white blooms instead of the "standard" dark green leaves and purple flowers. Check out the varieties available at reputable nurseries and garden centers.
"Mondo grass", a lower growing Liriope look-alike, needs a light trim. Do not cut it all the way down as you do Liriope. This is a great plant for edging in colors from bright to dark green, but be aware that it may become invasive.
Spring Bulbs and Plants
Gently break up any compacted mulch to enable the foliage and buds to emerge.
Apply a light application of all purpose, organic fertilizer and water it in if there is not adequate rainfall (one inch per week) and temperatures are above 40 degrees.
Daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, and grape hyacinths have not suffered from the recent warm to cold to warm temperatures. These plants are really cold hardy!
If you procrastinated and did not plant bulbs in the fall, garden centers have pots of them which you can put in spots in your borders. Just be certain that they have been "hardened off" (acclimated to the outside conditions) and have not come directly from a greenhouse. Remove the pot and plant the bulbs without disturbing the roots; they will bloom with the other established bulbs.
Gardening chores include removal of the dead flowers from pansies to keep them blooming: light fertilization of emerging plants; pruning back any dead tops of perennials which you left for winter interest; and pulling back mulch from emerging plants.
Many nurseries have spring stock out. A reputable nursery will not sell something that is not going to survive sudden temperature drops. Look for "caution" signs when purchasing plants.
Geraniums, impatiens, petunias, etc. are still a "no no"! This past week end, Merrifield Garden Center in Fair Oaks, VA had beautiful pansies, acorus grass, hellebore, forget-me-nots, selected hardy herbs, and other cool weather plants which had been hardened off and can be planted now when the soil is workable.
Don't be tempted to purchase any warm weather annuals
no matter how pretty they look at the garden center!
Planning for Annuals
In late April you can begin seriously to think about the summer garden. Check the last frost date for your area and wait until night temperatures stay at or above 50 degrees.
In purchasing annuals and perennials, consider the following:
- 1. Healthy green color (Avoid plants that are yellow and sickly, no matter what the price!)
- 2. Few blooms (A plant about to bloom is better than one in full flower as it will root more easily.)
- 3. Healthy, emerging flower buds (A plant in full flower has been forced and has spent much energy in producing the flowers. This is good for "instant effect", but the plant goes into a slump once the flowers are spent.)
- 4. Pot size (Single plants in 3, 4, or 6 inch pots are better than root-compacted cell packed plants.)
- 5. Healthy roots (If you can pull the plant out of the pot because it is root bound, avoid it.)
- 6. Absence of insects and disease!
Gently loosen the soil around the roots when planting, so the roots can become established in your soil. If you do not do this, the roots continue to grow as if they are still in the pot (in a circle or square!), resulting in a stunted, unhealthy plant.
Perennials which need division, are overcrowded, and produce few if any blooms. Now is a good time to divide emerging summer perennials - hosta, Shasta daisy, black eyed Susan, echinacea, etc. Dig the overgrown plant, break into smaller divisions, and replant. Be sure to enrich the soil with some organic material and apply a light dressing of an all purpose fertilizer after resetting the plant.
Share any divisions with your gardening friends if you do not have space for all the divisions - these are called "give aways" or "pass alongs" in the gardener's jargon!
Now is a good time to prepare your containers. Remove the old soil and replenish the pot with new. To save money, remove half the soil, replace the other half with new, apply some organic matter and all-purpose fertilizer and mix together.
Plan on filling your container (make sure it is large enough to accommodate the plants you want so they have lots of root room!) with plants that have interesting blooms and foliage.
Also be sure that the plants require the same growing conditions, e.g., shade, sun, etc. Most folks don't consider leaf texture and leaf shape when planting containers, but these elements give "character" to your container gardens. Filling a large container, for example, with a variegated yucca (stiff, erect leaves), licorice plant and variegated lantana (softer, rounded leaves) gives an interesting effect and lasts all season.
The "Educated" Gardener
"Fine Gardening" Magazine has produced a short brochure entitled "Plant Combinations That Work" which gives some interesting plant combinations worth trying.
Merrifield Garden Center has scheduled the following seminars at their Fair Oaks location (703.968.9600) -
March 18 - "Bulbs Throughout the Year" - 10:00 AM
March 25 - "Perennials Through the Eyes of Andre Viette" - 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM
March 26 - "Potomac Hosta Club" - 2:00 PM
April 1 - "Incredible Container Gardens" - 10:00 AM
April 2 - "Herb Gardening" - 1:00 PM
The March issues of "Martha Stewart Living" (www.marthastewart.com) and "Southern Living" (www.southernliving.com) have excellent gardening features.
For Your Interest - Gardening Educational Events
FYI- Recommended Catalogues (as plant guides)
FYI - Gardening Magazine
Photo from Tom's Garden
Commons Resident Guy L. Adams
(Click on Photo for More Images)