Spring Into Action - 27 East

Residence

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Spring Into Action

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Dahlias show up early at retail displays even though it will be weeks before they can be planted. Keep them cool or pot them up in pots and set them in a sunny indoor spot to get the plants going, and you’ll have early blooms outdoors. ANDREW MESSINGER

Dahlias show up early at retail displays even though it will be weeks before they can be planted. Keep them cool or pot them up in pots and set them in a sunny indoor spot to get the plants going, and you’ll have early blooms outdoors. ANDREW MESSINGER

A heaved planting of a perennial that was planted to late in the season without the root ball having been opened up. The freezing and thawing of late December resulted in the poorly planted specimen being heaved 2 inches out of the planting hole. ANDREW MESSINGER

A heaved planting of a perennial that was planted to late in the season without the root ball having been opened up. The freezing and thawing of late December resulted in the poorly planted specimen being heaved 2 inches out of the planting hole. ANDREW MESSINGER

Three different varieties of clematis grow up these concrete reinforcing rods that form a teepee. Some pruning is needed to thin out dead stems but the main stem is firmly attached to the rod so it won’t break. Know your variety and you’ll know if it needs a fall or spring pruning -- or none at all.
ANDREW MESSINGER

Three different varieties of clematis grow up these concrete reinforcing rods that form a teepee. Some pruning is needed to thin out dead stems but the main stem is firmly attached to the rod so it won’t break. Know your variety and you’ll know if it needs a fall or spring pruning -- or none at all. ANDREW MESSINGER

Rose pruning can be done now for the experienced rose grower, or you can wait until  healthy buds like these emerge. Deadwood like the center stem should always be pruned out and removed from the garden. Just about every rose needs some cutting back after winter. Also treat with a dormant oil before the buds open to control diseases and scale.  ANDREW MESSINGER

Rose pruning can be done now for the experienced rose grower, or you can wait until healthy buds like these emerge. Deadwood like the center stem should always be pruned out and removed from the garden. Just about every rose needs some cutting back after winter. Also treat with a dormant oil before the buds open to control diseases and scale. ANDREW MESSINGER

The recently updated National Audubon Society

The recently updated National Audubon Society "Mushrooms of North America" is a great reference book for those looking to identify what they’ve foraged. The only downside is the size and weight of the book making it tough to use as a field reference. Otherwise, well worth the $40 for foragers.

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Mar 30, 2023
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

There is one sure sign of spring. It’s not the appearance of robins on the lawn. It’s not the emergence of daffodil foliage and the yellow buds just waiting to burst open. It’s not the delightfully fragrant hyacinths blooming on the south side of the house with their wonderful aroma wafting through the air.

The real sign that spring has sprung are my windowsills, which are rapidly filling up with seeds in cells, seeds in peat pots and seeds in small plastic flats and seeds sown in peat pellets neatly arranged in nesting flats with clear plastic domes. These are the signs of spring.

And while waiting for everything to germinate, or hoping they germinate, there are plenty of other things to do, consider and order as the soil warms, the threat of snow and freezes begins to take a backseat and the need to grow things new and old takes over.

Tidying up the landscape on a sunny early April day is a great way to start. All those limbs and branches that have fallen during the winter should be gathered and put aside. Smaller twigs are great for adding to the compost pile while larger pieces of fallen wood should be chipped. It’s tempting to just take all this organic debris and put it on piles at the edge of the property or back in the woods. Those piles, however, are perfect nesting and hiding spots for rabbits as it’s a great place to hide and raise a family.

Then you’ll be tempted to start pruning. In most cases, don’t. There are some hydrangeas that take well to a spring pruning and there’s one perennial, Russian sage (Perovskia), that is pruned as soon as you see where the new buds are breaking. Prune out all the deadwood above these buds. Roses will need your attention as well, and don’t forget to give them a shot of horticultural oil to control diseases and scale.

Shrubs not to prune now are those that are spring bloomers. This includes forsythia, mock orange, azaleas and rhododendrons. These all can be shaped and pruned when the blooming is done. Also, pay attention to your clematis. The wonderful vines are pruned based on one of three categories that they belong to. If you don’t know the variety though, this is a daunting task and a great reason to label your plants and or keep records on what’s where. The other issue with clematis is that the stems need to be well attached to supports. Wind whipping the often long stems results in them breaking, and you lose a full year of growth and blooms.

Spring, especially when the forsythia is in bloom, is a good time to apply preemergent weed control. Unfortunately landscapers usually do this too early as they prefer to use a fertilizer that contains a preemergent as well. As I’ve noted over the years, this saves your landscaper both time and money but it doesn’t always translate into being good for your lawns and weed control.

An excellent example of this has come about as the result of an invasive that is showing up in most of our lawns. It’s the Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminemium). This annual, self-seeding grass began showing up years ago in woods and along shaded paths. It was said to be shade loving but sure likes the sunny spots in my lawn. You can get good control of it using preemergents, but the latest guidance tells us that this has to be at least two weeks earlier than the buds opening on forsythias. The plants look like tiny bamboo plants, and it seeds like crazy with the seed being spread simply by them getting attached to machine (mower) tires and the soles of shoes.

Then there’s the omnipresent question about when to feed the plants in the landscape including the lawn. Unless your lawn happens to be a golf course fairway or putting green, you can fertilize your lawn as infrequently as twice a year. Once in late spring and again in late summer or early fall. Your landscaper might resist this approach though since they make money every time they fertilize and it’s in their economic interest to have your lawn grow quickly.

What about everything else though? The annuals, the perennials, the trees and shrubs and of course the roses. The annuals are easy. Most are heavy feeders and may need several applications during the growing season. The first application can be added to the soil at planting and the rest by banding every six weeks or so. Perennials are a bit trickier with some needed to be fed at specific times like the tall garden lilies (Lilium). Others can easily get by with only one organic feeding as they emerge in the spring. Roses though are heavy feeders and will need to be fed several times during the growing season then stopping in late summer so they harden off for the winter.

There’s now a growing trend not to fertilize trees and shrubs especially if the ground around them is mulched or they are near a lawn. Keep in mind that no one other than Mother Nature feeds them in the wild where most do just fine. The exceptions are where these plants are growing with restricted root zones or if they’re in planters. Fruit trees are also an exception, and these should be on a regular feeding schedule that will encourage flower development, root development and fruit development.

Want huge dahlias, Alocasias and Colocasias in your pots, planters and beds? Start them now, indoors, in large pots in a sunny window. Want your dahlias in bloom later in the season like well into the fall? Hold off on planting them as long as you can, and this will result in later blooming.

Spring is also one of our two main mushroom seasons, and foragers will be out and about any minute. If you are interested in collecting wild ’shrooms be very, very careful. Many mushrooms look like others, and every year I read about people being poisoned or killed by eating the wrong fungi.

One thing that can help is a good mushroom book. The National Audubon Society has just published a new guide titled “Mushrooms of North America” ($40, Knopf). With nearly 3,000 photographs of 668 species, this is a great reference. The book is well organized with the all-important spore prints, which can be critical in making good identifications. There’s also good cross referencing such as what trees you’re likely to find the fungi on or near, as there are often these associations.

One drawback of the book is its size and weight. It can add some heft to a backpack (just over 3 pounds) and the format is a bit larger than the traditional Peterson field guides, but for a home reference or around the landscape it’s a great tool. Oh, it also has a ribbon marker that’s incredibly helpful when paging about to confirm and identification. A really nice touch.

Considering fruit trees for your piece of heaven? It’s not too late to order bare root trees and get them into the ground. For beginners I’d recommend apples and pears while avoiding peaches, plums and cherries until you’ve got some experience. Many of these fruit trees come in different sizes (at maturity) and it’s probably advisable to stay with dwarfs and semi-dwarfs with some apples being available with columnar habits.

You’ll need to learn how to prune them, how and when to spray them (yes there are organic ways to spray for insects and diseases) and which need cross pollinators. There are some apple varieties that are self-pollinators, such as Empire, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Crispin (Matsu), Cortland and Dolgo, which is a crab apple.

The best plan is to include a good pollinator even if your choice variety is self-pollinating. A compatible cross-pollinator can also result in larger fruits as well as having a second variety in your collection. Remember that with apples and pears there are many, many different types with different skin textures and colors. Different varieties also fruit at different times so you can extend your harvest from late August well into October. Some varieties store better than others and some are best for pies and cider.

Patience here is certainly a virtue. It can take up to three years until you can begin harvesting from a bare-root planting. Want fruit sooner? Look for container-grown or balled fruit trees at local garden centers. Over time though, the bare-rooted young ones will perform best.

A good place to start is with a company like Stark Brothers, and as you gain experience you can go to more sophisticated growers like Mehrabyan Nursery (mehrabyannursery.com) located up in Ithaca. You can also ask around at local orchards on both the South and North Forks where you can get great advice.

From time to time, you’ll see me write about winter heaving. It’s become pretty rare on Long Island but it seems to have taken place this winter in some cooler locations like in Riverhead. Perennials planted too late in the season and not well rooted can be subject to this insult. It results in the plant popping out of the ground when we go into a deep freeze (last December) followed by a fast thaw and then another freeze. In most cases the plants survive but need to be replanted as soon as the ground is workable.

Keep growing.

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