Early Spring Chores

On Friday I talked about the danger of working in soil that was too wet and the danger of soil compaction.

Today I am going to talk about what to do if this is not your problem–or if your your soil has dried out sufficiently. Early spring can be one of the nicest times in the garden. Often it is much cooler than later in the season and certainly the sun is less intense no matter where you live. The birds are singing happily–what’s not to enjoy?

On the first nice day you can certainly go out and prune. It is always acceptable to prune anything that’s dead. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring flowering, summer flowering or whatever. If you are quite sure it’s dead, you can prune it off.

Where there is ambiguity, however, don’t prune. I can’t tell you how many times I have cut into a hydrangea cane thinking it was surely dead and found green wood underneath, (meaning, therefore, that I had just cut off that seasons’ blooms! Wouldn’t you think I would know better by now?!)

Try to learn from my mistakes. If you are not sure, give it another few weeks to show some growth. Or scrape a little bit of the branch to see if there is any green wood underneath before you just callously cut into it and prune.

With respect to pruning, you obviously don’t want to prune anything that will flower this spring–wait until after it flowers to prune it. You also don’t want to prune anything that has set its buds on old wood–the aforementioned hydrangeas, but also things like later blooming rhododendrons, if you grow them, and lilacs. Wait until those things bloom and then prune.

Things that bloom later like shrubby hibiscus (hibiscus syriacus) can be pruned now.

Roses should be pruned when the buds on their canes start to swell. They actually tell you the correct time to prune according to your region and weather. Don’t jump the gun and prune too early with roses–you’ll just cause more dieback. And don’t necessarily prune shrub roses like the Knockout series of roses just because they’re roses and you think they should be pruned. Only prune them if they’re getting too big for the space or they have dead canes or crossing canes or something like that. Remember, shrub roses are designed to be treated more like “shrubs.”

And if all else fails and you get frustrated, default to my standby position that I took on Friday: take a walk instead. Spring is too lovely a time to waste!

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