By Mel Bellar
As I write this on 3/17 the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on our lifestyles and there is no snow on the ground except in the darkest of corners. It was 42 degrees yesterday and almost the same today with the sun doing its best to shine. It was beautiful and warm enough to enjoy getting out into the garden and doing a little simultaneous Spring cleanup and social distancing.
Writing about anything related to the pandemic seems a little mean and like overkill at this point (haven’t we all had enough?) but I just can’t help myself given how inundated we are with this incredible phenomenon we are experiencing together. While feeling sad and concerned about many folks that are suffering all sorts of challenges, including financial, I am feeling grateful for having a job that involves being outdoors and generally far apart from other peeps. Working in my own garden (or others) offers me (and others) the opportunity to be outside and to be constructive. It is therapeutic and productive at the same time, and you can’t ask for much more than that right now.
So, let’s all get out into the garden. With more time at home, less money, and a void to fill, it is a perfect time to enjoy the outdoors. There is much to do! First, unless you did a really thorough fall cleanup, there is cutting back and raking to do. It is hard work, but it is a good feeling to have everything cleaned up and to see the earth and what the change of seasons brings. It is exciting to see the new growth and promise in the early Spring. There are snowdrops in full bloom, daffodils and other Spring bulbs (always a thrill), and there are many perennials that are starting to poke up their little heads: daylilies, peonies, iris, fleece flower, bee balm . . . This is pretty much the textbook definition of HOPE and something we can all use now!
There are many ways that you can make really impactful and positive changes to your landscaping without spending a penny (well almost). You can make it even more of a pleasure to look out the windows or hang out on the porch or patio while getting some air, sun and exercise. How long has it been since you pruned the shrubs around your house that are growing together and blocking the windows? Pruning is scary for a lot of folks but can make a huge impact on the way your landscape looks. I often say that pruning separates an OK garden from a really nice-looking garden. Teaching to prune cannot happen in a paragraph but you can go to the internet, google “simple pruning guide” and learn what you need. This link is a great one: https://www.finegardening.com/article/pruning-tips-and-techniques. But here are a few rules to follow so you don’t get into trouble (or I for not telling you). Don’t prune now anything that blooms on old wood or that is Spring-blooming: lilacs, rhododendrons, weigela, magnolias, forsythia, etc. There are too many to cover here, so look it up before you cut.
When I prune, I think about how the plant is going to look. I want to control the size and create a nice branch structure (pleasing with or without leaves) as well as pruning for health, of course. First, I take out the dead wood, any rubbing and crossed branches and any branches growing in toward the center. Then I take out up to 1/3 of the branches to give the shrub/tree improved air flow and a nice shape. A nice shape is in the eye of the beholder, but if you use your eye it will at least look better to you! Give it a shot while you have some time. You might have to purchase some tools, but you will get a lot of return on that investment.
Spring is also the best time to move most plants. It can be daunting to move something that has gotten too big for its spot, but it is a great thing to do if you can. Otherwise it is only going to get worse over time. If it is a tree, you probably can’t do it yourself or it might not be worth it, but a lot of shrubs can be moved and, of course, perennials and grasses are quite approachable.
This is an opportune moment to kill two birds with one stone. Many perennials need to be divided periodically to control their size and to keep them young. After you divide your perennials you can use your divisions to fill in holes in the garden where things didn’t make it or to create a nicer mass and denser planting to deter the weeds. I have been dividing perennials and potting up volunteer seedlings for years to use at clients’ gardens. It is an incredibly effective way to plant new gardens and it benefits the parent garden. It is a clear win/win to divide plants and use them effectively and a great way to share with your friends and neighbors (at an appropriate social distance.)
In closing, I am keeping my fingers crossed that next month we are going to start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that the government doesn’t have to shut down nurseries and landscape supply companies in the meantime. If that happens, I am going to be doing a lot of dividing and creative supply shopping.
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.~