At this point, I am just itchin’ to get my hands in the dirt – excuse me, I mean soil (dirt is a no-no word in a gardener’s vocabulary). Are the pages of your garden magazines and catalogs becoming worn and tattered as they wear out their effectiveness for substituting for the real thing? You’re not fooling me.
Before donning our Muck boots and springing into another season, let’s continue to review some tips that will make a noticeable difference in both the beauty of your gardens as well as their maintenance requirements. Now I’ve got your attention.
In late winter cut back ornamental grasses. Larger varieties can be whacked with electric or hand-held hedge trimmers. To reduce the mess, first tie twine or bungee cords around the grass to hold it together, then cut it down to approximately six inches. Weed-wackers come in handy for smaller grasses. Some folks swear by chain saws but even I draw the line at certain power tools in the garden. Use gloves and caution when dealing with some of the larger grasses – their blades can be razor-sharp. If you really want to have beautiful grasses this year, after cutting them back, burn the remaining brown stubble to the ground. This will permit new blades to emerge without obstruction. Smaller grasses like Blue Fescue, Carex, Black Mondo Grass and Blue Oat Grass can be cleaned by simply hand pulling brown grass blades from within the clump. If the grass’ girth has expanded beyond its allocated space, this is a great time to divide it. But be forewarned. The taller the grass, the mightier the effort on your part. Double up on your spinach before grabbing an axe, saw, machete or sawzall. No explosives please. You might want to catch this memorable activity on video for future chuckles and to remind yourself, where there is a will, there is a way.
Prune roses in late winter except for those that only bloom once in late spring or early summer. Many antique roses fall into this category and should be pruned immediately after blooming. For all other roses, watch for green leaf buds to break from stems and prune back canes right above outward facing buds. I prune shrub roses back by at least one-half their height to maintain more compact plants. This may seem drastic but it works. My roses are covered with flowers each summer. If pruning makes you nervous, wait until you’ve had a bad day at work, with the kids, or in traffic, and then grab pruners and go at it. Remove dead or broken canes as well as those that rub against each other. Also cut out branches that are growing towards the center of the bush. These steal energy from outward facing, flower producing stems, plus they reduce airflow through the plant. Good air movement is important for reducing fungal diseases. As far as when to prune, in general, when you see Forsythia in bloom, let the games begin.
Kerry Ann Mendez is a lecturer, designer, writer, consultant, and the owner of Perennially Yours, a business specializing in low-maintenance perennial gardening and landscaping. Mendez also published two top-selling gardening books: The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7 and Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens: Seeing Your Way Out of the Dark: 52 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money-Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7.