April 2009 Newsletter
Crocuses (left) and snowdrops gather above the flood line.
Spring is here finally, though I could have done without all my adorable friends in Victoria crowing over their bulbs in January. I don’t care anymore, they are massing in wondrous clumps all over my garden through the last vestiges of mud. The spring flood was pretty bad. But any warm spot is burgeoning with life.
Once again the importance of planting ephemerals is apparent. These are the little spring flowers such as Trout lilies (Erythronium spp) which come out unbelievably early just so the bumbles and other insects have got a place to get some food. They don’t last long, ergo ephemeral. And they are usually glorious colours. If you haven’t got a patch in your garden, make one. Make sure it’s in a woodland area (lots of organic matter in the soil), where sun will warm things up early (leaves aren’t out on trees yet). Make sure you buy plants that are specially propagated for gardens and not taken out of the wild. They take a while to establish so mark the site and don’t put anything else there.
Tidy up the garden but don’t overdo it: cut back ornamental grasses and cut down all stalks that are no longer useful to birds.
As for spring pruning:
Leave the silver plants alone until you see strong growth from the bottom of each branch or stalk. Then cut back with clean secateurs to near the new growth on a slant shaping the plant as you go. And outward slant will make the stem grow outwards; ditto with an inward cut.
If you’ve got shrubs that look shapeless or ill-formed, start taking out anything that looks dead, if any branch is rubbing against another branch, off they go. Make good strong clean cuts. Do not leave stubs which will encourage disease and allow insects to invade. The cuts should be close to the main trunk, but not flat up against it. Leave room for a collar to form. Trees and shrubs will heal these wounds themselves so never apply any product to them. Total waste of money.
If you have time on these warmish weekends, start getting your containers ready. But don’t start planting them up until well into May. Those old rules do apply: the Victoria Day weekend is a great time to plant especially in cooler parts of he country. But you’ll have a head start and it looks like we’re in very early spring.
Containers are among the most useful of all garden furnishing. They fill a boring corner, grace the front of a house and provide filler for holes left by dying bulbs. Buy a container that will more than fill the space you have. People too often get ditzy little ones when a large one would be better.
* Make sure there is a drainage hole and place a place a piece of landscape cloth or broken bits of terra cotta over it. Or you can cover it with sticks to help drainage but not let soil escape. Then add a handful of Soil Sponge a coir product that will retain water. Fill the container with a potting soil mix (without peat moss, please, it’s not sustainable). In the top layer add another handful of Soil Sponge to the mix as a kind of mulch. Plant into this mix.
Place one plant with height (something spiky always looks good) towards the back and one side. I love Cordylines with their stiff colourful leaves. Add lower layers of plants all around but tuck summer blooming bulbs underneath them in the same tone of your main palette. Make sure you have a couple of plants to trail over the side so that the top of the pot is connected with the ground. Don’t overstuff—it’s a big mistake, since all these plants grow quickly.
Plants I would recommend:
Tibouchina (deep cobalt blue); Plectranthus ‘Mona lavender’ (brilliant neon blue); Alternanthera (dark magenta)
Here’s a question that comes up all the time:
Q. My lilacs are overgrown and produce very few flowers. They are the usual kind you find in any older property in the city. What should I do?
A. This is probably Syringa vulgaris which blooms on last year’s wood, so cut off the dead blooms each year to avoid seed production. Prune very carefully so you don’t damage next year’s bud and let them ripen. To rejuvenate the plant over 3 years: Prune out all the suckers springing up on either side of the main trunk. Prune out dead wood in early spring but leave them alone until after blooming. Then go at old wood in the centre. Each year after, leave new stalks alone but take out old branches. Always prune for shape leaving a very beautiful superstructure.
When you are planting dogwoods this year, remember the following: these plants are considered soil improvers and its leaves break down faster than almost anything else leaving plenty of minerals in the soil. Considered a good source of calcium and sulfur and minor elements such as manganese and zinc.