Gearing up for spring in a year when it seems spring will
There are tones of despair in your letters and the questions
you've posted recently on the website listed at the end of my
column. After so many years of mild winters and early springs,
we're wondering how we'll ever accomplish all we want to do
outdoors before the real warmth comes and plant growth outpaces
There's much you can do even while it's still cold. I've
condensed my advice on these topics to short reports to cover as
many of your concerns as I can.
Ready to prune?
You bet! You can prune trees and shrubs now. Late winter pruning
capitalizes on the ability to see and correct awkward branching
while plants are leafless. It's also a better time to prune shrubs
you're trying to keep small, sincee it removes the dominant tip
buds before growth begins. This frees up subordinate side branches,
so more of the plant's spring growth happens on the sides and
What about my clematis vine?
You can prune clematis, butterfly bush, dwarf spirea, barberry,
ornamental grasses and just about everything else now. Fifteen or
30 minutes of pruning every few days is a great way to ease into
My hand hurts when I prune!
Gardeners are often over-achievers -- we shouldn't prune for so
long all at once, particularly our first time out!
Sharpen your pruning tools first.
Check hand pruners to be sure they're the right size for your
hand. Put one handle into the crook of your thumb where it should
be, then open your hand flat and let the pruners open to their full
spread. If the handle meant to be held by your fingertips opens so
wide that it's sitting on or beyond your fingertips at its full
extension, you need smaller pruners so your hand can truly rest
Most pruners, even the Felco model made for a small hand, open
too wide for a small man or average woman's hand. That may be a
holdover from a time when companies were marketing high quality
tools primarily to professional lumberjack types. Try the Fiskar's
brand -- lighter and smaller but with a very good blade.
My maple's bleeding!
Maples, birches, beeches and grapes are known for pumping sap so
vigorously in spring that it flows copiously from fresh cuts. This
doesn't hurt the plant, but it does upset people who assign human
qualities to their plants. If you're in that league, wait to prune
your bleeder in August or during a winter thaw.
That shrub seems dry and brown on one
Has a male dog made a habit of visiting this plant? Dog urine on
wood and concentratred in the soil can kill even while a plant is
dormant. Cut out the dead wood, flush the soil well or dig and
remove what you can, then give the dog some other four-season item
to mark. Prominently-placed concrete statues, boulders or wooden
posts are less likely to be damaged and often accepted as
subsitutes. wait to prune, don't want to get cold feet; can prune
now; dog pee on dormant bushes hurts? can prune cleamtis no; can
cutr back grasses now, buddleis now
I didn't finish dividing my perennials last
You can divide perennials as soon as the frost leaves the
ground. It's easiest on the plant and its appearance during this
growing season if you divide before new shoots begin to lengthen,
butIf you can't stay ahead of
Green thumbs up
to warming up for 2003's first full-out gardening day. Think
about what you'll be doing in the garden when the weather breaks.
Try to prepare those muscles. I have many bags of leaves to move
from here to there and empty, so I'm working out indoors first with
sacks of rugs and dirty laundry.
Green thumbs down
to cutting plants back, then up-potting them. If you cut back
your rosemary, jade, ficus or pothos each March, just loosen and
top dress the potting soil. Up-pot -- move it to a larger pot
Originally published 3/8/03