True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

This week, a practical — as opposed to, say, philosophical — rendering. In other words, a how-to reminder of the things you should be doing in your ornamental gardens here in the middle of March. If you escaped the Ides of March two days ago and if  you are not already swamped with spring work, then pay attention. 

I will admit right up front, I had some help from friend Jason Reeves of Jackson on this, and since plagiarism is one of my vices, well, here goes, part Jason and part Jimmy:

A big part of your pruning efforts can be done “whenever the knife is sharp” as the Chinese proverb goes. That is, you are not likely to do much harm whether it is January or July, but, on the other hand, there is an advantage to pruning some things about now.

One hard and fast rule, however, is critical for blooming shrubs. Early bloomers need pruning, if they need it at all, right after flowering. Included here are such things as forsythia, azaleas, flowering quince, etc. that will flower soon, if they haven’t already. 

One shrub that is problematic on this score is Japanese kerria, or Texas rose (it is not a rose) in its double or single form. It leaves a lot of dead branches every year after bloom and there’s little way to bundle them up and keep any dignity to the bush. A tedious operation, but the best, is removing the old, brown shoots at the base of the shrub and leave the green, productive, shoots to flower next year. 

Plants that flower on new wood, including most white hydrangeas, can be cut back now without losing any bloom, but the bigleaf hydrangeas, most of which are blue in our acid soil, should be left alone since pruning now will remove potential flower buds. 

Don’t get in a hurry to fill your ornamental pots for summer. We are undoubtedly still closer to winter than to spring, notwithstanding the calendar. Most of the plants you will use are annuals or tender perennials, which won’t look the other way when frost hits. 

Back to hydrangeas for a minute. If you want your blue hydrangeas to be pink, add lime to their soil several times some weeks apart. It will take some time, but you will eventually get the pink hydrangeas you yearn for. On the other hand, if you want the blue ones to be a darker shade, almost purple, add an amendment that brings on more acid soil conditions. Remember the litmus paper tests from lab in high school?

If you, like me, have been fazed by “reblooming” hydrangeas use a time-release fertilizer now and use enough to keep them in extension growth, which provides the flowers, until fall bloom time. 

It has been a good winter for fall planted pansies, with the snowstorm coming at just the time they need some protection. Now they have run low on your fall fertilizing regimen and a boost of liquid fertilizer will do them wonders. 

In case you hadn’t noticed, weeding is a never ending effort. Winter weeds, primarily chickweed, are prominent now and a careful shot of a weed killer will thwart them. In close quarters, a pointed hoe is the right tool. 

Later, summer insects and minute spider mites will arrive on the scene. A fairly new invention is either granulated or liquid systemic pesticides, which poison the pests from the inside out. Applied on the ground around the plant to be protected, then watered in, via rain or hose, the potent chemicals are taken up into the sap of the plant and when the spider mite or lacebug feasts on it they are kaput. Even larger pests, such as canna leaf rollers and wood borers, can easily be controlled with a systemic. 

Mulching is often necessary yearly in our hot climate. The mulch literally cooks out within a year or so. 

The favorite, aged tree bark, is good for larger scale shrubs, but shredded leaves are better for smaller things such as perennials and annuals. Just be sure you don’t pile mulch directly on the tree trunk or shrub base. 

By all means leave a “donut” of clear soil there, else the mulch will hold moisture against the bark, causing rotting and, sometimes, eventual death. 

Thanks Jason.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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