Spring offers eternal hope to the gardener each year. After surviving another cold and dreary winter, the garden always amazes me when I see the green shoots of daffodil foliage begin to poke their heads through the cold ground. Snowdrops and crocus are already blooming and give us our first dose of color in the garden. I love the early morning song from the birds and enjoy watching their activity as they flit excitedly from the trees and shrubs or scratch around in the garden beds.
With this early spring activity in mind, I wrote my garden column thinking of ways to help you jump-start your own spring celebration in the garden.
Forcing Spring Blooms Indoors
One of the easiest ways to celebrate Spring is to force branches of forsythia into bloom, right now. It is quite simple to do and once the branches are brought into the warmth of the house, the buds will begin to swell in a week or so.
I like to fill a tall ceramic pitcher with ten or more stems of forsythia and watch with anticipation as the green buds open to bright, cheery, yellow flowers on my kitchen counter.
When you start clipping the branches for forcing, keep the shape of the forsythia shrub in mind and make well thought out cuts.
Young thin stems will have the most flower buds, so I will start by cutting off some of the longest whips. Then I will look for some of the older branches that have crossed into the center of the shrub and will cut a few of these to be forced.
You may have read or heard that you need to smash the ends of the stems with a hammer before placing them in water, but it’s not necessary. Once the stems are cut, immediately place them into water and keep the branches in a cool location. After 5-7 days, you can move the container of stems into the living space of the home to enjoy the bright blooms.
Forsythia is one of the easiest shrubs to force into bloom so I recommend starting with this one – but if you are brave , you might try forcing stems from ornamental trees such as Cherry, Dogwood or Bradford pear. Count back six weeks from their usual bloom time, and this is the ideal time to force the branches into early bloom.
Tread Lightly on the Soil
With the recent warm weather, you might be tempted to head out to the garden and start working the soil. It’s still a bit early for that and your soil structure will be healthier if you wait another 2 weeks. The soil needs to completely thaw and ease back into place as the days grow longer and warmer.
If you step into your garden now, be it a flower bed or vegetable garden, you will compress the soil and compact the layers. Stay on the paths or step lightly in the garden for now and your plants will do much better when their roots begin to awaken and start growing.
Cut Back Ornamental Grasses
One thing you can do in the garden is to cut back any ornamental grasses that were left intact for winter interest.
If the clump of grass is large, the easiest way to perform this task is to tie rope or heavy twine around the center of the grass. Use an electric hedge trimmer to cut the grass at the base of the clump. The entire clump will stay together and can be easily carried to the compost pile.
For smaller clumps of grass such as Blue Fescue or Fountain Grass, I use my manual hedge trimmers and clip away at the clump.
For taller grasses, I leave a 4-6″ high base of grass and for smaller grasses, I leave a 2-3″ high base of grass.
Rake out any leaves that might be stuck within the remaining clump of grass.
The ornamental grass won’t put out new growth for another few weeks, but this will be one less garden chore to do in the coming weeks.
Prune Summer Blooming Shrubs
Another pruning chore you can do right now includes cutting back the summer blooming shrubs such as Hypericum (St. Johnswort), Potentilla, PeeGee Hydrangea, Bumald Spirea and Japanese Spirea.
Don’t prune your roses until the Forsythia shrubs are in bloom.
I don’t heavily prune Butterfly Bushes, Japanese Beautyberry or the Bluemist Shrub until I see the buds start to push out new growth. The same goes for woody perennials such as Russian Sage.
We still have danger of heavy frost or late spring freezes and if you cut these stems too severely right now, you may not have anything left if they are damaged in early spring.
You can remove some of the top growth to get rid of the dead stems or lanky growth, but wait another couple of weeks to cut them back completely.
Deadhead Daffodils and Tulips
When your daffodils and tulips are done blooming in April, you should promptly remove the spent flower bud so the bulb does not waste energy producing seeds.
Remove the flower head but keep the stem and leaves intact to feed the bulb. Don’t remove the leaves until they turn completely brown. If the bulb is not allowed to feed itself properly, you run the risk of having no flowers the following spring. You can also apply a bit of bulb fertilizer to the soil now and this will help to feed the bulb for next spring’s show.
The smaller bulbs such as Crocus, Snowdrops, Grape Hyacinths, and similar don’t need to deadheaded as they easily go to seed and will multiply in your garden year after year.
Do take stock of your garden right now and make note of the areas that could use some early color in the spring from bulbs.
Bulbs are planted in the fall, so you tend to forget about the lack of spring color. That’s why I make my “bulb planting list” in the spring. Taking photos this time of year will also be a good reference for areas that need bulbs planted in the fall.
I really like using the small bulbs as a carpet under the deciduous shrubs, as they get plenty of sun before these shrubs leaf out. And when the shrubs leaf out, you barely notice the shriveling foliage on these tiny bulbs. It is a perfect plant combination to give your garden color in every season.
Rake Up The Leaves
It’s safe to remove any leaves that may have collected in the garden beds, but I usually do this on an overcast day. The foliage that was buried under the leaves may be tender and a bit yellow from the leaf cover and will need to be protected from bright sunlight. A recent weekend was perfect due to the cloud cover on Saturday and the misty weather on Sunday.
Don’t apply new mulch to your beds just yet, as the soil is just starting to warm up. Mulch applied to the soil now will hold in the cold and delay your spring bloomers. I like to wait until I have finished all my pruning and cutting back of spent perennial foliage before I place new mulch in the garden.
Watch for my next article, which will include information about early spring blooming perennials. And if you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, send them to me in an email addressed to email@example.com
Posted April 4, 2009