by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
With April and May being two of the busiest gardening months, now is the time to get a jump start on maintenance in the garden and landscape.
I know how tempting it can be to cut back those ugly chrysanthemum stems, however they serve to protect the crown of the plant during cold weather. Wait until the lows are consistently in the forties before removing them.
While there are no leaves to block your view, check your trees and shrubs for limbs that may be crossing or rubbing together. Prune those limbs and remove any dead wood. Keep an eye on suckers and watersprouts. Suckers come from the root system and watersprouts are upright growing stems originating from limbs. They can be removed any time they appear, but it is easier to spot watersprouts when the tree is clear of leaves. To avoid overheating, remove any tree wrap or plastic bark protection from young, thin-barked trees.
Cut back shrubs that bloom on new wood. This is best done while they are still dormant. Keep in mind that there are some that bloom on old wood. This is when keeping those plant tags come in handy so you know what type of plant you have. If in doubt, leave it alone and try to identify it after it blooms and the leaves grow out. Don’t cut anything that blooms in early spring. These types of plants set their buds right after flowering. Wait until they bloom and cut them back right after the blooms are spent. Some examples are Lilac and Forsythia.
I like to leave my ornamental grasses stand for the winter. It helps give the landscape some architectural interest. This time of year you may be finding it breaking off and strewn around your yard and maybe even the neighbors’ yard. Take a rope or bungee cord and wrap it around the grass and cut the bundle as close to the ground as you can using a hedge trimmer. Check the base of your grass. If it is empty in the middle, it is time to dig it up and divide.
Resist the urge to work wet soil. No matter what tool you may be using, working wet soil can have detrimental effects for many years to come. Working wet soil will compact the soil particles tightly, making it hard for water and air to get through. Compacted soil is also hard for plant roots and gardening tools to break through. To determine if your garden soil is ready to be worked, take a fist full and squeeze it in your hand. If it forms a muddy ball, leave it to dry out more. If it is crumbly, it is ready.
Spring is a good time to add or replenish mulch around trees, shrubs and perennial beds. Keep in mind that you do not want to bury those perennials that will be emerging soon too deeply. If you do not have them labeled or don’t remember where they are, it might be best to wait until you see them before cozying some mulch up to them. Keep mulch around trees and shrubs a few inches away from the trunk or stems to deter pests.
The average date of a last frost is still quite a few weeks away, so keep some protective mulch handy for those strawberry and fall planted plants. You don’t want any tender, young shoots nipped by frost.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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