New England

April, 2010
Regional Report

Perennial Garden Cleanup

As the snow goes, it's time to do some clean up in the perennial garden. For plants that die back to the ground completely in the winter, such as hostas and phlox, remove any old growth that wasn't cut back last fall, being careful not to damage any new growth emerging from the soil. Some other plants, like lamb's ears and coral bells, are semi-evergreen in our cold climate, but look pretty bedraggled by spring. Clean these up by cutting back the most damaged leaves. You can clean up a patch of lamb's ears by raking gently with a bamboo rake. Some of the plants we grow in our flower gardens are woody perennials. These include plants such as perennial candytuft (Iberis), thyme, germander, lavender and perovskia. These can be pruned to remove the winter-killed stems, but should never be cut back to the ground. I usually wait until I see the buds breaking before I trim them so I can see what made it through the cold.

Spring Lawn Care

As soon as the snow is gone from your lawn and the ground has dried enough that you can walk on it without compacting the soil, give your lawn a light raking to lift up any grass that has become matted over the winter. Hold off on fertilizing until the grass is growing actively- usually after you've needed to mow a couple of times.

Harden Off Your Seedlings

Begin to harden off seedlings of cold-tolerant crops such as broccoli, lettuce and cabbage that you started early indoors. Pick a sheltered, lightly shaded spot and set out plant for an hour or so at first. Gradually increase the time outside and the intensity of the sunlight over the period of about a week before you put them out in the garden.

Strawberry Planting

Set bareroot strawberries out as soon as they arrive. Make the planting hole wide enough to fan out the roots. Be sure not to plant too deeply. Set them so their crowns (where the roots and the top of the plant meet) are just slightly above the soil line. If they are set too deep, the crowns may rot; too shallow and the roots can dry out. Give the newly planted strawberries a drink of fish emulsion to get them off to a good start, then recheck their planting depth after the soil has settled.

Planting Trees

Before you put spade to soil, measure the depth of the rootball of balled-and-burlapped trees, or the depth of the soil in containerized trees. Then dig the planting hole to just that depth so the rootball is sitting on undisturbed soil. This will prevent the tree from settling after planting, and ending up too deep in the ground. Make the width of the hole at least twice the width of the rootball. Especially if you are planting in heavy soil, rough up the sides of the planting hole with the bottom of your spade, so that the tree's roots will have an easier time growing out into the native soil. Don't add fertilizer to the soil you use to backfill the hole. And don't change the texture of the backfill soil drastically from that of the native soil. Particularly in clay soils, backfilling the planting hole with much lighter soil will make the tree's roots less likely to cross the planting hole boundary into the heavier soil. You can end up with a "pot-bound" tree in the ground!

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