Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Itching to get Gardening? What you Can Do Now.

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Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, sunny days here (Ottawa, zone 4/5) are making me itch to get into my gardens.

Use Caution!

It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.

The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fall for the past few years, so I am one step ahead.

You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.

Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.

Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across one a few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds, when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved onto another area of the garden.

What can You Do This Early?

Prune Trees

You can prune trees now, in fact this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Just do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms. And, if you have to trample all over your soggy lawn to get to the trees to prune them, perhaps you better wait for a few weeks.

Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy and create a workout for your arms.

If cut branches are diseased, wipe lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcolol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.

Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. This will ensure the new green shoots (when they appear) wont have to compete with the dead brown ones.

Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.

Plan and Dream

This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!

Get Ahead of Crabgrass

If crabgrass is making an appearance in your lawn, treat it quick! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.

I have tried corn gluten, a preemergent, with varying results; the biggest problem is finding it in the stores so early. Scotts has a product out with good reviews for treating crabgrass. I have yet to try it.

This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.

Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.

If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Rinse them out and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.

If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.

Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.

Change up Your Outdoor Decor

Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!

Start Some Seeds

Non-hardy seeds should be started at least six weeks before your last frost date, so this is a great time to get them going. I have learned a few tips over the winter regarding seedlings. Stay tuned for a future post on that subject, coming soon.

Conclusions

While it is still too early to really get started, there are a few things you can do to scratch that gardening itch.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post next week on the next steps in spring cleanups.

Posted in gardens, gardens4u.ca, loreeebee.ca, Ottawa, zone 4

Pruning dormant shrubs and trees

In Ottawa (predominantly zone 4) this is a perfect time to prune dormant shrubs and trees.  The timing is even more perfect if you are out of sorts self isolating or practicing social distancing as currently recommended by our government officials.

The trick is knowing what should and should not be pruned or cut back this early.  Here is a list of plants you can cut back NOW…

  • trees (it is much easier to see branches that need to be cut back before the leaves sprout).  Oak, ash, birch, maple, linden, walnut and fruit trees are on this list.  Beware, some of these trees will release sap when cut this time of year.
  • shrubs that do NOT flower in spring.  Leave the trimming of lilacs, forsythia, etc until right AFTER they bloom.  The shrubs you can prune now include hydrangeas, potentilla,  spirea, (with the exception of bridal wreath variety) smoke tree, butterfly bush, ninebarks, false spirea, and weigela to name a few.
  • shrubs grown for their foliage only (burning bush, willows, boxwood, euonymus, cedars, dogwoods, barberry, junipers, yews, etc)
  • roses, except for the climbing variety.  Cut back to 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud/leaf node, slanting the cut in a 45 degree angle, away from the bud/leaf node. (see picture below)
  • vines, (except those that flower early, like clematis) especially vigorous growers, can be cut back to 5 feet from the ground.  My golden hops falls into this category.  Left unpruned, it will take over my gardens, in one season.
  • ornamental grasses (cut back to 4 inches from ground)
  • stalky perennials (these should snap off easily at ground level) like coneflowers, daisies,
  • perennials that have died back to the ground, leaving mushy mounds, can be tidied up now.  Hostas are an example.  I cut my hostas back in the fall because I can’t handle the mushiness in the spring.

 

Many trees and shrubs do not need to be pruned, unless their growth is out of control or they have diseased, dead or crossing branches.  All such branches should be removed any time of the year, but while dormant it is easier to visualize the crossing or damaged branches.  Cut broken branches back to the closest healthy branch.  Cut diseased branches back to the ground.  Cut crossing branches back to where they no longer cross/touch another branch.  You may have to choose which of the crossing branches is the best one to keep.

Other garden chores to do early

There are several other garden chores you can get done early, as soon as spring fever hits…

  • edging can be done as soon as the ground is thawed enough to get the edger in. The same applies to making your garden larger or changing its shape.
  • perennials can be dug up, divided and/or moved as soon as the ground thaws too.
  • add compost or composted manure around your plants.
  • take cuttings from any shrubs you have pruned.  Dip the end into rooting hormone and put the cutting into a pot of soil.  I make hundreds of new plants this way each year.  They take a few years to reach maturity, but it does work.
  • clean out and disinfect any pots you emptied in the fall that you plan to reuse this season.
  • start annuals or perennial seeds indoors. My granddaughter loves to plant them and watch them grow.
  • clean out and replace bird houses.
  • rake your lawn, hard, but wait until it is no longer soft and soggy.
  • treat your lawn with weed & feed, preemergent crabgrass treatment, or grass seed.  You cannot treat for weeds and spread seed at the same time.  If you treat for weeds now, wait six weeks before adding seed.  Fescue is best in our area, grubs don’t like the roots.
  • powerwash verandas, decks, fences, patios, patio furniture and any other surfaces that get dirty/moldy over the winter.
  • leave the debris in the gardens though, as bees and other beneficial critters are still hiding there.

As new Growth Appears

Some plants, like most varieties of clematis vines, should only be cut back (to 4 inches) when new growth appears.  This happens sometime after the dormant stage and before the last frost date.

After the Last Frost

Some garden chores must wait until the chance of frost is gone.  I rely on the blooming of my forsythia to tell me when it’s time.  Mother Nature is amazing and the forsythias haven’t steered me wrong yet.  Here is a list of garden chores that should wait…

  • pruning climbing roses.  Cut lateral (side shoots emerging from main stem) shoots back to two buds from the main stem.  As above, angle your cuts. As the lateral shoots grow, tuck them into their trellis (or whatever they are growing against) horizontally.  They produce more blooms that way.
  • trim old growth from late bloomers like hibiscus only when new growth appears.  Every year I worry mine did not make it through the winter, then bang, they show up, just as I’m about to give up on them and pull them out.  My advice?  If you think yours has croaked, wait a week.

So, if spring fever has hit you (as it has me) get out into your yard and garden to get a start on things.  Take advantage of the social distancing restrictions to give your gardens some extra TLC!  Later in the season, when we are able to entertain friend and family again, you will be happy you spent the time now.

Just don’t forget to do your stretches first!  Your muscles will thank you.

feature (top) image credit to Pixabay