The month of March is acting like an overachiever this year with forsythia, bulbs, roses and lots of other eager plants performing in a spring show that deserves a standing ovation. While the rest of the country suffered record-breaking snowfall, we enjoyed mild winter weather. That brings up more than a few questions about what do now in the garden.
Is it too late to prune my roses? There are not just new shoots but lots of new leaves and growth all over my rose plants. I fear I have made a mistake and waited too long, and now if I prune my roses I will be lopping off all the beautiful new growth. T.R., Maple Valley
No pardon needs to be begged as I can still promise you a rose garden if you prune your roses this week. The truth is you can even wait a few weeks longer to do the rose pruning if you love to procrastinate. Traditionally gardeners in Western Washington will guarantee a rosy future by lopping off the top two-thirds of their rose plants anytime between mid-February and mid-March. There are no pruning police that enforce the traditional practice of making rose plants very short in the spring. You’ll get bouquets of blooms even if you let your roses grow tall and wild – problem is you might not be able to reach them. Pruning hybrid tea roses helps prevent disease and insect pests, but if you own the low-maintenance shrub roses like the Flower Carpet or Knock Out roses you won’t need to do any major pruning. Just clip off the three D’s – anything dead, diseased or damaged.
I have a clematis vine growing in a pot next to my house. It is a beautiful reddish-purple color and blooms almost all summer. It has been in this pot for three years and has now grown taller than our single story house and is up on the roof. Every winter it looks very messy with dead brown leaves. My question: Can I prune this tall clematis and if so when? M.R., Buckley
Yes, get snippy with it now. Clematis can be a fickle bunch and there are all sorts of rules about when to prune certain varieties. But relax, you won’t kill a clematis with a good spring haircut so grab all the vines by the throat, bend over close to the ground and make one giant cut with the hedge shears. This is called the “ponytail cut” because you are shortening all the vines at once, like lopping off a pony tail. It is quick, painless and scary if you love your clematis vine. You’ll breathe easy in another month when the recently shorn clematis sprouts up with renewed vigor – and a much more tidy growth habit. Do not prune evergreen clematis that will be blooming very soon. Wait until after the fragrant white buds open and the flowers fade.
I have a few small clumps of Black Mondo Grass and would like to use this black foliage plant as an accent in some other areas of my garden. Can you divide this grass? When should it be done? N.W., Tacoma
This classy black foliage plant is only masquerading as a grass, as it is actually a member of the lily family which means you can dig up the swollen, bulb-like roots and move them all over the yard now to start new mondo grass colonies.
Just don’t get carried away with tidiness and try to give this evergreen (ever-black?) plant a haircut.
You can pull off any dead or damaged blades when you move the clumps, but if you dare to give Mondo grass a crewcut it could throw a fit, suffer from three months of brown tips and become so embarrassed about how bad it looks that it could sink into a plant pout from which it never recovers. Dig, divide the roots and move it about – but don’t shorten those blades or take a little off the top.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.