Mid-Atlantic

April, 2010
Regional Report

Edge Garden Beds

There's something so immediately satisfying about edging a garden bed, pushing the square-edged spade into soil to cut the line, then lifting just enough soil (with grass or weeds) to define the bed edge. I usually do my edging with a partner. One of us stands and cuts the edge. The other gardener crab-walks behind, shaking soil from the upturned clumps of sod into the newly-made channel. Weeds and grass go into a bucket that's emptied into paper trash bags for lawn debris pickup.

Remove Ivy, Pachysandra, and Other Vine-like Groundcover From Under Shrubs

Thick-leafed groundcovers will keep water and nutrients from reaching the roots of shrubs and trees they surround. Pull and prune away ivy and other vigorous groundcovers within 3 feet of the bases of shrubs or trees. Remove as many plant roots as possible to keep the groundcover from growing back. This will create a 3-foot circle of empty space to fill with compost, leaf mold, pine needles - a natural mulch to protect and feed YOUR plant's roots. (If you listen closely, you might hear your shrub sighing with relief.) Check periodically throughout the summer and clip back intruding vines.

Work in Dry, Not Wet Soil

Though you may be in a hurry to start digging and planting and walking about in the gardens, STOP. Wait till your soil's dry enough to fall off the trowel or shovel when you dig in it.. Disturbing wet soil can ruin its structure beyond repair. Healthy soil is living. It has air pockets - significant space for oxygen that's vital for microbes and root cells. Working wet soil compacts soil and eliminates air spaces - creating a kind of dead zone. Delay your digging until soil moisture is at an appropriate level to keep your soil alive and healthy.

Cut Back and Fertilize Forsythia

After these golden-flowered shrubs finish blooming, cut them back - to an upward-facing branch or just in front of a node, where one branch connects to another. Prune off branches that are in your face (eye-level and below) along a walkway or that wander unwanted into a neighboring spot. I prefer this shrub in its natural, flowing fountain shape, so I prune with that in mind. Some people prune them into special shapes - spheres, arches. While you're there, fertilize too.

Clip Away Dead Stalks and Brown Leaves

Tidying the spring garden is soooo satisfying. Keep your bypass pruners handy for small jobs. Clip off (don't pull off) dead perennial leaves from coral bells, hellebores, geraniums, etc. Clipping makes a clean cut. Pulling may tug the plant out of the ground or damage the crown. Clip away tall stalks too. I've taken the 'short cut' of pulling out seemingly dead stalks - only to find a cluster of small Lilium bulbs or garden phlox roots attached. Which took more time to replant than if I had just clipped off the stalks properly!

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