As the snow continues to melt, our landscapes start to wake up from hibernation. You may be thinking of ways to get into your gardens, and how you could get a head start on your summer projects. With abundant sunshine and warmer temperatures, we can start digging around in our gardens. We may not be able to plant anything right now, but we can start preparing our beds for the upcoming growing season.
It is a great time to start clearing out dead plant debris in your gardens. You should be able to easily rake out any remaining plant material left from annuals, perennials, and leaf drop from woody trees and shrubs. If the plant material is a little more stubborn use pruners or shears to cut the plant material at the base of the plant. By cleaning up the beds before new growth emerges, you will prevent disease and insect issues later on in the season. If you had disease or insect issues last season, be sure to remove and dispose of the plant debris away from the site to prevent further spread.
Your woody plants may look like dead twigs and branches, but they are becoming very active in their vascular systems. For example, Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) have sap flowing freely through their vascular systems starting in late February into March, even though there isn’t any sign of life in the trees. If you look at the Sugar Maples’ relative, the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), you will see red clusters of buds starting to swell on the branches. If you start to prune woody plants, remember that trees like maples and birches could “bleed out” if you open wounds at this time of the year. Also, if you have spring-blooming plants, do not prune them in spring because you will cut off the flower buds. Woody plants that are ok to prune in spring include: Spirea, Hydrangea, Ninebark, Potentilla, and Weigela. Here is a tip: think of when the plant blooms, and if it is towards late summer into fall, you can prune in spring. For spring-blooming plants, feel free to prune right after blossom in spring. Watch your evergreens, once their new growth is starting to emerge (candle growth), you can start shaping your evergreens without damaging or causing desiccation of plant tissues.
Once all of the plant debris is cleared out, you can start freshening up your mulch. If you have existing wood mulch in your beds, feel free to top dress with 2-3 inches of new mulch, if existing mulch has started to decompose. If you prefer alternative mulches, feel free to top dress with those as well. Be sure not to heap the mulch around existing plant bases because you could suffocate the plant. If you are adding mulch around trees and shrubs, be sure not to create mulch volcanoes. Trees and shrubs have surface roots that need to be able to breathe, and if you heap mulch around the base you will cause the roots to search for oxygen and it could cause them to encircle the trunk, causing stem girdling and rot.
Working in your gardens is a great way to prevent and get rid of cabin fever. Getting a little sunshine and hands in the mud will brighten your spirits. “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”-Margaret Atwood. Spring is on its way, we just have to be patient. Soon the tulips and daffodils will be showing off their blossoms, and summer will take ahold of the gardens.