GARDEN THERAPY: Tree Trauma, Treatment and Transitions – March 2017

By Mel Bellar

Right now the winds are howlin’ and the snow is a blowin’ and there are at least 14 inches accumulated at my house. Of course, I love it, as nature encourages me to chill and regroup and brace for the imminent onslaught of spring. However, it is not the most fertile ground for my garden-writing self. Fortunately I have a muse in the form of an angel named Peggy who is always flush with inspirational topics. She is also (ugh-hum) my editor who doesn’t allow smiley faces in my print writing. The muse suggests that I write about doing all those things that I have been saying that “you/we should do” for years and yet never seem to get around to.

The problem with spring is that everything happens at once and then, in a flash, it’s over! And spring is the time when most of the garden “should-do’s” need to be done. So let me attempt to inspire you (and me) to get it done this year! No getting distracted and no procrastination. Thus you have no excuse to miss this year’s window of opportunity.

There are a few things that should be done before plants break dormancy, or at least before they start to really leaf out. Anything you have been meaning to move should be your first priority. Do it as soon as the ground thaws enough to get a shovel in the ground. It will cause the least trauma to the plant and when it wakes up in its new home it will immediately start putting out some roots without already having the burden of supporting leaves and flowers. This is a rule of thumb. I can’t possibly cover all of the exceptions and plant-specific caveats so please don’t decide to move your prized specimen tree because “Mel said” and send me a bill (or subpoena!) when it doesn’t live. The rule is especially important for most trees and shrubs; but perennials as well will probably recover much faster than if they are moved during the season. Having said that, as you well know, rules are meant to be broken. So don’t fret…I certainly move perennials at other times; I even move trees and shrubs, if I have to, for a good reason. Spring just doesn’t last long enough for me to get it all done!

Another high-priority task is dividing plants. Do it in the Spring for the same reasons as above; the divisions will all suffer less trauma and have a much better chance of taking off quickly. Also it is a lot easier to dig in the Spring when the soil is nice and moist after a lovely mud season. But remember, if you are digging and tromping around in your beds while they are wet, it is a good idea to try to avoid soil compaction. It is one of the worst gardening evils. I have never done this, but a good idea is to put down a piece of plywood to help distribute your weight as you jump up and down cursing the shovel trying to get it through the soil and roots.

My amsonia (Blue Star) has gotten way too big for its spot and is in desperate need of division and moving. There is a cup plant (silphium perfoliatum) that is trying to take over my garden; a bunch of Annabelle hydrangeas and Southern bush honeysuckle are way out of control. I commit to you now that I am going to deal with at least the aforementioned this Spring.

Next on your spring work list: pruning. A lot of pruning should be done before bud break. If you have shrubs or small trees that have grown too big or unshapely, make a point of getting out there and pruning it first thing this spring or as soon as we have a nice enough day to enjoy it. I love to prune so this is not a big hurdle for me. Again, a disclaimer: You need to know if the plant you are pruning blooms on old wood (blooms in the spring) or new wood (blooms later in the season). If you prune lilacs, rhododendrons, azaleas, ninebarks, mock orange, weigela, magnolias or forsythia in spring you will not get blooms this season. This is just a partial list but you get the idea. You can prune your evergreens (judiciously please), maples, nearly all hydrangeas that grow here, willows, apples, cherries (if you do it early enough), buckeyes, spirea, burning bush, boxwood, dogwoods …

Finally – do that spring cleaning! Revamp the bed that got away from you and is now 60% weeds, throw out all of the half-filled, hardened, dried out, expired fertilizers, pesticides and amendments in the shed. While you are at it, why don’t you just clean out the whole shed? You have been saying that you were going to to do that for years, right?

Pick at least one of the things I mentioned and as your garden therapist, I promise that you will feel better.~

Mell Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and is a passionate Andes gardener.