Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to
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"Gardening By the Yard Column."
(Posted March 5, 2007)
All gardeners knew that the spring-in-January weather would not last, but little did we know what extreme conditions lay around the corner! Wind chills, wind, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures really put the breaks on the spring-like growth that had begun in December and January.
But Mother Nature always knows best and even though there will be some damage evident when "true" spring arrives, the landscape will survive. It is interesting to note how hardy some plants are - the daffodils, for example, have responded well in the few recent days of seasonal temperatures. There appears to be little damage to the foliage and even some blossoms have opened in protected locations. Snowdrops survived well. Hellebores looked "limp" for a while, but they, too, seem to have come through with flying colors and are showing blooms once again.
Even though some of the deciduous magnolias had begun to bloom, most of the buds are still snuggly encased in their fuzzy coverings and will be fine. Pansies, due to the extent of their growth, took a beating, but with proper pruning of the damaged stems, the removal of the spent blooms, and the addition of some fertilizer when it can be applied, they will respond with happy blossoms.
Wait until the weather warms before pruning what appears now to be winter damage. Of course, you need to prune immediately any broken or ice damaged landscape materials. Hydrangeas, for example, may have been damaged since some of the leaves were showing green in January. After new growth begins, you can see how much the plant was damaged and prune accordingly.
Even if the tips of the hydrangea were damaged, the plant should have blooms from the secondary buds along the stem.
Do not prune any spring or early summer flowering shrubs now except to remove broken and dead wood. Pruning azaleas, lilacs, forsythia, weigela, spirea, hydrangea and such will result in no spring flowering. Prune these shrubs immediately after flowering.
Late summer bloomers, such as butterfly bush, can be pruned now.
Spring Basics - Gardening 101
Now that the temperatures seem to be more in tune with the calendar, gardeners have the "itch" to get outside and see what's happening and plan for spring and summer growth.
The following "basics" will help ensure a successful gardening season:
- Build a fertile soil by including soil amendments such as peat moss, compost, humus, and top soil. Also add some fertilizer such as Plant-tone (www.espoma.com) before planting out.
- Leave room for roots. Work the soil and make the planting space two or three times the size of the root ball. This will give the plant room to grow and establish a good root system.
- Always "tease" open the root ball before planting. Roots need soil contact in order to become established. If you simply plant the ball or square root without opening it up, the roots will continue to grow in a circle or a square resulting in little or no growth and little flowering.
- Water wisely. Thorough soakings are better than frequent, shallow waterings. Always water in the plant when putting it in the garden.
- Plant at the right time. Wait until the soil has warmed up before planting. This is particularly important in regards to summer annuals. If the soil is not sufficiently warmed, the plant will languish and eventually rot as the roots cannot establish themselves. No matter how tempting the nursery displays look, wait until the proper time to plant. You can always tell a quality nursery because it will have signs telling you about the likelihood of frost damage. (Fall is recommended for most perennial and shrub planting because the soil is warm, and roots quickly become established.)
- The last killing frost in the Fairlington area is generally around April 22, but waiting until the second week end of May to put out summer materials is always best.
- Select low maintenance plants. If the plant is subject to mildew, black spot and the like, avoid it unless you want to spend time spraying and doctoring! Many new plant varieties have been bred to be disease resistant. Research before planting.
- Know the plants' growing conditions. Shade loving plants will not tolerate bright conditions; likewise, sun loving plants will languish in the shade. Read the label before purchasing the plant!
- Consider plants which attract butterflies and hummingbirds - they are out there! Last summer I had several visits by hummingbirds in my small garden! What a delight. Also butterflies are attracted to coral bells, columbine, lantana, and catmint. The common butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii, is a butterfly buffet! This shrub has been bred in many colors in addition to the standard purple. It also blooms on new growth (this season's growth) and responds well to severe pruning, thus it is suitable for our smaller spaces.
- Mulch! Two or three inches of good double shredded hardwood mulch conserves moisture and eliminates weeds. Remember in the spring to lightly turn under last year's much before applying new; the incorporation of mulch into the soil adds nutrition.
Early Spring Garden Chores/ Reminders
- Do not attempt to work the soil until it is dry. If it doesn't crumble in your hand when you squeeze it, it's too wet.
- It is best to stay off the turf when it is wet since excessive pressure will cause it to compact.
- Finish any cleaning chores left over from the fall such as removing dead stalks of perennials and cleaning up remaining leaves to eliminate breeding spots for slugs.
- Cut down perennial grasses before new growth begins.
- Clip off the old stems of liriope.
- Loosen the soil and mulch around emerging growth.
- Fertilize spring bulbs and emerging perennials with an all purpose, organic fertilizer. Lightly work it into the soil.
- Clean out containers and refresh the soil in preparation for the installation of summer plants.
May 2007 marks the Four Hundredth Birthday of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English colony in the New World.
There are special exhibits and events planned throughout American to commemorate this anniversary, with the "official" event scheduled for the Jamestown/ Williamsburg area featuring a visit by Queen Elizabeth II in May.
America's Anniversary Garden (AAG), developed by Virginia Cooperative Extension, encourages homeowners, businesses, and communities to plant red, white and blue themed gardens.
There is also a 2007 American Anniversary Garden Contest for Virginia. Criteria for contest submissions and other information can be found on the AAG Website at: www.ext.vt.edu/americasgarden/index.html.
(Debbie Sullivan. "North Piedmont Region". Virginia Gardener. March 2007.)
Some exciting, new Echinacea (cone flower) this year include 'Summer Sky' (pink/ orange) and 'After Midnight' (magenta). 'Eleonore' is a new lavender day lily (Hemerocallis). Wayside Gardens is offering Lilium pardalinum, an intense burnt-orange, red and golden hued Turk's Cap lily. 'Harpoon' is a new Hosta with corrugated deep green leaves edged initially with bright yellow maturing to a creamy yellow.
Check out the Wayside Gardens (Hodges, South Carolina) Web site at www.waysidegardens.com .
Local Home and Garden Tours
April is the month for house and garden tours, and Historic Garden Week in Virginia (April 21 - 28) is the granddaddy of garden tours!
Some of the gardens featured are really "landscapes" but many homes feature wonderful borders, herb gardens, patio areas in addition to professionally designed landscapes and formal gardens. Local tours in Alexandria, Winchester, Leesburg, Warrenton, and Fairfax are of special interest.
Check out www.VAGardenweek.org for all listings and select a tour and GO! You can find the dates for other local garden tours on our gardening page.