2011 04 04 – Early Spring Chores

Wow! That seemed like a long winter. Maybe it just seemed long after last year’s short winter. Or maybe I’m just getting older and it seems longer because I didn’t go tobogganing once this year. Nah. That can’t be. Forty-two is the new thirty-two so it must have been a long winter. I can’t really say that it’s over, since I still have quite a bit of snow in sections. Hopefully the rain this week will get rid of most of that.

As the snow disappears, a few chores in the garden are begging to be done. Hopefully you left your perennials up for the winter. If you did, the birds thank you for the extra food they provided. Now is the perfect time to get out in the garden and start cutting them back. At least, now is the perfect time to cut back most of them. There are a few perennials that prefer if you wait a little longer yet, like Russian sage and lavender. For coral bells, creeping phlox, candytuft and other evergreen perennials, just remove the dead and damaged sections. While you are doing your Spring cleaning, try to avoid the really wet and muddy sections as you can compact the soil quite easily, making it tougher for the plants to grow. I suppose that really goes without saying as most of us try to avoid the mud anyways, but if your kids are helping, that mud can be quite attractive. It certainly is to Latte, my yellow lab.

Ornamental grasses is one group where you want to cut some of them back now and leave some of them up for a while yet. If you know the names of your grasses or still have their tags, this is easy. Grasses to cut back now include; Alopecurus (foxtail), Arrhenatherum (tuber oat-grass), Bromus (brome), Calamagrostis (feather reed grass), Carex (sedges), Deschampsia (tufted hair grass), Festuca (fescues), Helictotrichon (blue oat grass), Koeleria (blue hair grass), Milium (wood millet), Molinia (moor grass) and Phalaris (the dreaded ribbon grass). Many of the sedges, as well as fescues and blue oat grass, are evergreen or semi-evergreen. With these, I usually only remove the parts that are discoloured. If you aren’t sure which grasses you have planted, a good rule of thumb is to leave the taller grasses until mid-May and cut back the shorter ones now. Generalizations always have exceptions. Calamagrostis is a taller grass at about four feet that you definitely want to cut back now. You can also check your grasses for new growth, and cut them back as soon as you see new shoots coming. If you’ve planted bamboo, it’s best not to cut them back at all. The culms will produce new leaves at which point, the old yellowed leaves will be pushed out, much like oaks and beech trees.

This is also a good time to cut back late summer and fall blooming shrubs. Butterfly bush, Caryopteris and Vitex can be cut down to about six inches. Fall-blooming Hydrangeas, like PeeGee and Limelight, can either be lightly pruned if you want a larger shrub, or cut back fairly hard to control the size. I also cut my Annabelle Hydrangeas to about nine to twelve inches at this time of year. Annabelles are the big round white hydrangeas that tend to sucker and flop over under the weight of the flowers. I’ve found that cutting them back like this definitely helps with the flopping.

If you need a little inspiration to get you out in the garden, there are a couple of good garden shows coming up. The Peterborough Garden Show (http://www.peterboroughgardens.ca) starts Friday evening at the Evinrude Centre and continues through Sunday. It’s definitely worth the drive. Next weekend (April 16-17) the Scugog Spring Garden Show (http://pineridgegardenclub.com/scugogspringgardenshow.html) is at the arena in Port Perry. Both shows have lots of vendors, demonstrations and speakers, including myself giving a presentation on ornamental grasses at the Scugog show on Sunday.

It’s not all work in the garden at this time of year. The early Spring bulbs like snowdrops and crocuses are blooming already in my garden and the birds have been singing up a storm. If you’re not sure whether to cut a perennial or shrub back, you can always ask at the garden centre or send me an Email at: johns_garden@hotmail.com.

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About johnsgarden

I have a garden centre which operates out of my home in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada I write columns for a local paper, which I will include here
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