Spring could give tender plants the cold shoulder

April 10, 2013 

The beginning of April is always going to be somebody’s heartache. Spring can be a flirt but the nights are still cold. If you fall madly in love with a gorgeous but tender young thing at the nursery, you will risk losing the entire plant after one frosty night.

Wait before you plant warmth-loving flowers such as coleus, zinnias and marigolds outdoors. You can continue to add new trees, shrubs, perennials, berries and groundcovers to the landscape this month. In the vegetable garden it is still too cold to plant heat-loving seeds such as tomatoes, squash, corn or peppers. This is a good week to seed cool season crops such as lettuce, radish, cabbage, carrots and broccoli.

Question: Is it too late to prune my roses? I see lots of new leaves but my roses are getting very big and out of control. – T., Sumner

Answer: There is still time to prune back the roses even if you see new growth sprouting on the old canes. Always remove the three D’s — anything Dead, Diseased or Damaged when you decide to prune a plant. After that the decision of what to amputate and what to leave alone is often a matter of personal taste. If you want larger flowers and shorter plants, prune back your roses to stumps 1 foot tall. If you want a more carefree and bushy rose just shorten the entire plant by about one-third.

Q. I have a new house and some really big shrubs. When can I cut back things such as rhododendrons, azaleas and other things that look as if they are going to bloom? How do I know what to keep and what to get rid of? Help! – P.Y. Email

A. Wait. Breathe. Enjoy. Rhododendrons, azaleas and other spring flowering shrubs can be trimmed after they flower. The line to remember is “pruning after blooming.” I suggest you just sit back this spring and see what pops up. Take pictures of shrubs when they are in flower as this will make it easier to identify them. Attend classes at your local nursery, visit the library for garden books and start talking to the neighbors about what you like growing in their gardens. Learning about plants and landscaping is a lifetime process. This means that no matter how old we get, we remain very young gardeners. Use this month to introduce yourself to your new landscape by removing weeds and debris, spreading mulch and trimming the lawn. There’s plenty of time to get snippy later.

Q. When daffodils are done blooming, do I need to deadhead or remove the flower head? Also, is it true if you cut off the leaves of a daffodil it will never return? – E., Tacoma

A. No, you do need to remove the spent flowers of daffs, tulips or other spring-blooming bulbs, but many gardeners do this to keep the garden tidy. Yes, it is true that daffodils and other bulbs make flowers for next year by sucking all the green from their foliage. If you remove the leaves before they have turned yellow you starve the bulb and it will come back a puny runt or not at all. This is a good week to visit the nursery and buy a perennials such as euphorbia, hosta or daylily to position right in front of the fading daffodils. Growing spring bulbs in the back of a bed and perennials in the front is a great marriage of convenience.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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