Shelley Pederson: Being out in the great outdoors is not canceled

Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Perennial Buzz by Shelley Pederson

Shelley Pederson


‘Awake, thou wintry earth — Fling off thy sadness!’ — Thomas Blackburn

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Spring fever anyone? The good news is gardening is not canceled. The bad news is that it is a bit early for warm weather. Some of you may be concerned with what to do with your perennials, trees and shrubs, even lawn care.

As much as I want to get in my garden and start cleaning up, I am keeping the old plant material on most of my perennials for natural protection of the freeze and thaw cycle. The ones that I am cleaning out are the iris, mums, peony and crown plants. I cleaned the mums, but kept the pile close by for a quick cover in case of snow. Crown plants don’t like being wet and cold. Nor do they like to freeze hard, thus, keep cover close by. They will all manage light frosts, but a late hard freeze could be detrimental.

Zone 5 perennials should be kept lightly covered. In my experience they will not survive a late frost once they’ve come out of dormancy.

The main thing is perennials need aeration, so heavy wet mulch is not healthy. But they need protection if we get hard freezes. Tulips and daffodils will probably be breaking the ground soon. They will survive snows and light freezes.

I have several trees budding out right now. Nothing I can do about that, and if winter turns on us I will likely lose them. What I would advise, is that you do not prune fruit trees or shrubs this year. Pruning stimulates growth and right now trees need to stay dormant. Obviously, diseased, dead or damaged limbs can be removed at any time.

What can you do? Gently rake your lawn to provide aeration to the roots. Clean up sticks and things that have blown in. Think about overseeding in a couple weeks with bee-friendly grasses and clover. If you want to reduce your chemical imprint on your lawn, a good early spring fertilizer is Milaorganite. Initial cost is higher, but one application in the spring and then another in the late fall is the most you would need. Then for maintenance, simply fertilize every fall. An additional bonus is that deer and rabbits are offended by the smell. Yes, there is an odor for a day or two, but it goes away. Deer and rabbits, however, have better sniffers and it will repel them for months. This a slow-release, all-natural fertilizer and it will green your lawn up well. Pine trees, oaks, roses and hosta would appreciate a light application. It is a bit acidic, so avoid putting it around lilacs. Another benefit is that the iron in it will add to fall colors. Great stuff.

I cleaned out my raspberry bed yesterday. It was nice to be outside and at least be around some garden. Cut back dead cane and thinned the plants every 8 inches. I cut them back to the ground. I think most brambles would be safe to clean up. I think it is too early to prune grapes and blueberries.

As soon as you can dig a hole in the ground, it is a good time to plant trees. Home Depot got in some nice Jane magnolias and oaks. If you need a fruit tree or yard tree, maybe buy it now and bring it home. That way, if there is a hard freeze before it is planted, you can bring it in your garage. Potted trees don’t withstand being outside during hard freezes.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns or talk to the many trained nursery staff in the area if you have concerns.

In my opinion, it is too early to start vegetables and annual flower seeds and those will be the topic of my next column. In the meantime, get outside and walk around your gardens and breathe in spring. I repeat: Gardening is not canceled! Be safe and healthy.

Shelley Pederson is a perennially busy master gardener, lover of nature and student of life.