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The Crocus are here! The Crocus are here!

Top 5 chores to tackle now to enjoy a beautiful garden all summer long!

By Chris Leinster - March 19, 2019

And just like that, spring arrived! You’re probably still shoveling out from the so-called Bomb Cyclone last week, but the Crocus have bloomed on schedule nevertheless. I love crocus in the garden as they are among the very first blossoms of spring and they cue us in as to when to start our spring garden chores.

I always design every garden with low maintenance in mind. Nobody has ever said to me “what we’d really like is a labor-intensive garden that consumes all our spare time”. The key to low maintenance is knowing what to plant and how to care for it. Timing is critical for some tasks and the spring awakening is perhaps the most active time for gardeners. Yes, you’re going to spend some weekends toiling away in the yard, but if you perform these jobs now you can sit back and enjoy your personal habitat through the rest of the year. So, sharpen up the garden tools, here’s a list of the top 5 most essential tasks to accomplish over the next few weeks.  

1              Clean up perennials. Perennial flowers are those plants that die back each winter but grow back each spring. Its best to leave the dead foliage on the plants through the winter, but now is the time to remove those dead leaves and vegetation. Some perennials remain evergreen or don’t die back entirely. Cut those back too. It will invigorate the plants and promote a burst of new growth. If plants are mature and overgrowing the space available, dig them up and divide the root mass. Re-plant half and transplant the rest wherever space allows in the garden.

2              Cut back ornamental grasses. Most ornamental grasses die back each fall, but the straw-like remains have ornamental value through the winter and most gardeners leave them standing until now. The arrival of Crocus means new grass blades will be resurfacing soon, so remove the old growth to make way for fresh foliage. Tip: tie up the bundle with twine or a bungee cord and chop away the base. The debris will be easily discarded with little clean-up.

3              Restorative prune semi-woody shrubs. Semi-woody shrubs are a class of plants that never develop rigid woody branches. These include Spirea, Potentilla, Caryopteris, Butterfly Bush, and Russian Sage. These plants reach mature size in one growing season and usually top out at a determined height. After 3-5 years they may grow too thick or gangly, flower poorly, or just generally lose their luster. Chop the whole plant down to about 6” from the ground to give them a restorative pruning.

This advice may sound counter-intuitive and you may resist chopping down your valuable landscape plants. Many folks mistakenly go out in the middle of summer and clip these plants into cubes or balls, sheering off the soft flowering outer growth and exposing the coarse twiggy branches beneath. This is just wrong. Whacking back the whole plant encourages healthy new growth that will reveal a natural appearance and an explosion of flowers throughout the summer months. Timing is crucial however, so this must be accomplished now or just as the leaves appear on the plants.

4             Maintenance prune Juniper- To keep Juniper in check, selectively prune back now and allow the new growth to fill in as desired. Many homeowners wait until the Juniper have spread half-way across the sidewalk to take any action. They then go out in mid-summer and whack back the branches to the edge of the sidewalk. This lops off the lacy vibrant growth at the tips of the branches and exposes the barren twiggy branching underneath. If done late in the season, no new growth will appear and you’re stuck with this unsightly mess until next year. The plants spread across the sidewalk the following spring, and the cycle repeats itself. This is wrong!

Instead, go out now and cut back Juniper 1-2’ from the sidewalk’s edge. Within weeks the new growth will emerge and spread toward the sidewalk or garden border. As summer advances the growth slows, and the lacy, desirable foliage remains on the plant throughout the season without encroaching over your walkways.

You can also thin out the bushes by selectively pruning 1/4- 1/3 of the branches back to the base. Admittedly this may look like a disaster immediately after pruning, but this opens up the plant and allows for air movement and sunlight to penetrate to the interior, encouraging new growth and revitalizing the Juniper. Plus, you’ll recover all the baseballs and frisbees long forgotten under the dense overgrowth.

5              Plant trees! Everybody waits until the flowers burst open on the trees to rush down to the garden center to buy their trees. Sure, that’s a fine time to plant, but not as good a time as right now! The trees have a few more weeks dormancy until their buds open up. Its best to transport them before the leaves emerge. The roots will begin to establish themselves immediately, even before any signs of life appear above ground. The trees will blossom or leaf out in your yard, and you can enjoy the show for the duration of the season! If you buy trees in flower chances are the petals will decorate the roadways along the route to your home, leaving little for you to admire for the inaugural year.

Trees can only be harvested when dormant, and a mad rush is on to get the trees out of the ground. New stock is arriving daily, and we have the best selection you will encounter until digging resumes in the fall.

Happy Trees is a virtual nursery, meaning we don’t have a physical location for you to tour. The only retail places left to buy large caliper trees are beyond the suburbs off into the countryside. But you don’t need to waste your weekend driving across the state to slog through the mud to pick your tree. Use our Happy Trees website to shop online or give us a call and we’ll help you select the perfect tree to suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for shade, privacy, or just something to beautify your yard, let us do the shopping for you. We will send pictures of the trees we select for your approval and arrange for fast, professional delivery and planting. It’s easy! Happy Trees makes happy customers and happy memories for generations to come!