In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
March, 2008
Regional Report

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Beautiful buttercup winterhazel with delicate, lemon-scented flowers is one of the earliest-blooming shrubs.

Spring's Arrival

After winter's browns, spring's spectrum of green hues is welcome. Chartreuse hydrangea buds unfurl from burgundy-brown sepals. Forest-green chives are one of the first to unfurl from cold soil; oniony, lavender-pink flower heads soon follow. Tips of blue-green iris spears reach to the sun, promising bearded purple beauties.

Each hour, each day, brings new color to appreciate in our outdoor palette. Delicate buttery yellow bells drip from winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) branches. Clusters of orange-red spidery petals on 'Glowing Embers' witch hazel are fragrant as well.

And the daffodils! Which bud will open first, we wonder. How can there be so many different shades of yellow, so many sizes and varieties of narcissus? Colors are ever so welcome and especially vibrant after winter's shadow.

Last week we started spring cleanups, rose and hydrangea pruning, and fertilizing. For pruning, there are the usual tools: sharp bypass pruners for small branches close at hand, bypass loppers and rachet loppers for thicker branches out of arm's reach, and a pruning saw for 3-inch and larger branches and thick stubs. Isopropyl alcohol and small rags to sterilize pruning blades between plants helps kill lingering bacteria and fungi.

As the soil is still damp, I lay a piece of plastic tarp to kneel or sit on while clipping off dead hydrangea branches at the shrub's base. Dead branches break off or pull out easily. They're pithy white inside and often crack when cut. Live branches have live, plump buds and are green inside.

We're sprinkling a slow-release granular 4-6-6 mineral fertilizer around perennials and shrubs, a 6-6-4 around roses. We're also removing leaves from atop perennials and inside azaleas.

The Bigger, Warmer Picture
While I'm waxing romantic about spring, Seth Borenstein recently reported sobering news on the Forbes Web site. He listed some hard facts and disturbing consequences about spring's earlier and earlier arrival, temperature-wise. In Washington, D.C., scientists have documented that cherry and red maple trees are blooming sooner. In Boston and Knoxville, dogwoods and other flowering trees and shrubs are blossoming earlier than in years past.

Those changes, wrote Borenstein, "could push some species to extinction. That's because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. Also, plants that bud too early can still be whacked by a late freeze."

As gardeners, we appreciate an extended growing season. This April, there's little likelihood of a surprise hard freeze (10 percent probability of the temperature dropping to 28 degrees or less), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But as the Earth's caretakers, we strive for health, harmony, and preservation of life -- bees, butterflies, birds, fish, flora, ourselves and our families -- all dependent on an ever-so-delicate yet increasingly jeopardized ecological balance. At the recent Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association conference, keynote speaker Kirk Brown reminded us of an intent and charge loosely attributed to Hypocrites: "First, do no harm."


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