Photo by Ron Patterson
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
Questions and comments can be directed to
firstname.lastname@example.org - please reference:
"Gardening By the Yard Column."
Early Spring Gardening 2013
(Posted March 13, 2013)
All Nature seems at work.
The bees are stirring - birds
Are on the wing-
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge from "Work without Hope")
Spring Gardening Tips
After three days of spring-like weather, we all feel that itch to get out and dig in the earth and think about planting for spring and summer. Nurseries have been putting in cold hardy plants and stacking bags of mulch and fertilizer in anticipation of the growing season. True spring arrives on March 20.
Even though we are well into early spring, we can still have cold weather and even snow. This area is usually not "out of the woods" until after Easter when the weather settles down. And even though Easter is on a different date each year, it still happens at the same time each year, for the early Church decided that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). So calendar-wise Easter is not going to be the same, but weather -wise it is going to be the "same"!
What's in bloom in your neighborhood? I have seen daffodils, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, crocus, camellia, hellebores, early flowering plum trees, and of course pansies in flower.
All of these are pretty cold hardy. Several nights of severely cold weather will take its toll, but otherwise no protection is needed. Daffodils have been up since December it seems with no harm done by the cold. The leaves have a kind of antifreeze which protects them. Once the flower opens, however, it is subject to burn from the cold.
One local display of daffodils that is always the harbinger of spring is the west bank of Rock Creek Parkway between the exits to Pennsylvania Avenue and to Virginia Avenue in Washington, DC. Because of their location, these guys are always the earliest to bloom. Their display really illustrates William Wordsworth's feelings about discovering a "host" of golden daffodils when he "wandered lonely as a cloud".
There are also drifts of daffodils along the George Washington Parkway from Memorial Bridge to National Airport which will be in bloom about the same time as the cherry blossom peak (early April this year).
Even though the temptation is great to purchase those plants on display at the nursery, one should hold off putting out anything other than cold hardy material.
Most reliable nurseries will display signs telling customers that the last frost date for this area is late April and to plant tender, summer annuals at your own risk or be prepared to cover them during a cold spell. Nothing is really going to grow until the soil warms up and the night temperatures don't go below 45/ 50 degrees. Snapdragons, violas, and dianthus can handle the cold, whereas zinnias, marigolds, impatiens, caladiums, and petunias cannot.
If you have the space and grow veggies, you can plant potatoes, onions, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and kale. Check out the "Outlaw Garden" web site mentioned at the end of this article if you are interested in "urban" vegetable gardening.
If you didn't plant spring bulbs last fall, some nurseries have market packs of hyacinths, tulips and daffodils. Be careful and don't disturb the roots when planting. To plant, you can gently cut the bulb with a block of soil with a knife rather than planting the entire pack together for a more natural look.
Hellebores are still "big" with English gardeners; the "craze" seems to have died down somewhat in the states.
There have been great strides made in hybridizing these plants for bloom size and color. There is reportedly a "yellow" variety, and there are double flowering ones. Hellebores like light shade, have evergreen/ leather-like leaves, are somewhat drought tolerant, and will self sow if they like their location. They also make an attractive ground cover. For some plants that work well with hellebores, check out the article at www.hortmag.com/ headline/ hellebore-companions.
Here are some timely chores to satisfy your urge to garden:
1. Clean off the tops of perennials if this was not done earlier.
2. Divide perennials if they are overcrowded or did not bloom well last year. Pass along any extras to your neighbors. If you're from the South, you already know the expression "pass alongs" for plant divisions!
3. Loosen the mulch around sprouting plants and apply a slow release fertilizer.
4. Wait until the buds are green on hydrangeas before removing any dead wood. There will probably be some winter die back. Any whole sale pruning of traditional hydrangeas now will result in no bloom this summer.
5. Wait until after flowering to prune spring-flowering shrubs. Pruning azaleas now (except for the removal of dead wood) means reduced spring bloom.
6. Summer-flowering shrubs such as crape myrtles and butterfly bushes can be pruned now. Reducing the butterfly bush to about 18 inches means a sturdier shrub and larger blossoms.
7. Remove any dead blooms and leaves from pansies that were planted last fall and fertilize for continued spring bloom. Supplement your fall planted pansies with a few new ones from the nursery - you know you can't resist a pot or two.
8. Prune roses. Traditional floribundas and tea roses require quite a reduction of the canes for renewal and flowering. The newer "knock out" roses may simply be trimmed down and don't require the same kind of pruning as traditional roses do.
9. Consider adding some dimension to your patio by varying the heights of the shrubs, adding hanging plants, and considering a "friendly" vine (one that is not too aggressive). Such variation will pull the eye up, giving you more to look at and making your space seem larger!
10. Remember that bare spot may just be the location of a late sprouting perennial (such as hosta or hardy begonia) and not a spot for a new plant!
Here are a couple of interesting web sites: www.plantsdelights.com and www.outlawgarden.com.
Plants Delights in North Carolina has a wonderful gallery of hellebore pictures and other interesting gardening suggestions and plants. Most plants from on-line nurseries are much smaller than what you can find at your local shop, but web and paper catalogues give you many interesting plants to look for when planning the spring/ summer garden. If you can buy it locally, do so. If it's something special or rare, consider an on-line site if that's the only place you can find it. The exception is bulbs - always a safe purchase on line.
Outlaw Garden is a blog written by Cristina Santiestevan, a gardener near Warrenton, VA, who breaks her home owner association rules by growing vegetables in her front yard. Her posts are lively and informative and provide lots of interest to the city veggie gardener. I think you will like her site and her photographs.
It soon will be time for home and garden tours. This year marks the Garden Club of Virginia's 80th year of producing state-wide tours, the oldest such endeavor in America. Historic Garden Week in Virginia (April 20 - 27) combines gardens, interiors, and history. Consider a local day trip to sample what they're offering this year at http://www.vagardenweek.org/. Maryland offers its Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage beginning April 20. Maryland's tours are only on Saturdays and Sundays. Find out more at their web site http://www.mhgp.org/.
Happy Gardening! Tom Corbin 4624 34th St. S., Arlington, VA 22206
Even though Fairlington gardeners are limited by our spatial constraints, it is always a treat to keep up with gardening trends by exploring noteworthy garden publications. I highly recommend the following:
(American Horticulture Society, and)
Practical Web Sites
Gardening Resources - Cornell University Gardening Site - Offers great links on lawn, garden, landscape gardening and much more.
Online resource for gardening enthusiasts - Garden Guides.com - offers some simple, practical videos on garden maintenance and general gardening advice.
Note to Readers
As some of you probably remember, I used to do this column for the All Fairlington Bulletin as an effort to offer to local gardeners some practical advice based on personal experience. I am always interested in who (if anyone) actually reads or uses this advice and will respond to your questions or comments. Drop me a line at email@example.com and reference "Web Site Garden Column" in the subject heading.
The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is one of the oldest national gardening organizations in the country. Since 1922, we have provided America's gardeners with the highest quality gardening and horticultural education possible.
We accomplish this with the help of an impressive network of experts -- from the members of our Board of Directors, specialized Advisory Committees, National Great American Gardener Award Winners and corporate sponsors.
At AHS youíll get connected -- to great gardens around the world, gardening education for all levels of skill, sources of information on any garden subject imaginable, a community of gardeners eager to share their experiences, other great gardening events and activities, and much, much more.
In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.
|Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area. |
Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.
Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.
Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.