New England

March, 2011
Regional Report

Pull Back Mulch from Perennials

As the days begin to warm and new growth starts to emerge, gradually pull back mulch from around the crowns of perennials. Cut back any of last season's growth that was left standing over the winter, taking care not to damage any new shoots that may be sprouting.

Start Eggplant and Pepper Seeds

Start seeds of peppers and eggplants 8-10 weeks before your planned transplanting date, waiting until the weather is settled and the soil is warm, a week or two after the frost date, before setting hardened off seedlings in the garden. Use a heat mat to speed germination; with eggplant especially, germination can be very slow if the temperature of the soil mix is below 70 degrees.

Sow Seeds of Cold-Hardy Annuals

Sow the seeds of annuals that thrive in cool weather directly where they are to grow in the garden. Sweet peas, clarkia and larkspur can all be grown from seeds planted directly in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. For even earlier bloom, they can be started indoors in peat pots and transplanted. Nick the hard seed coat of sweet peas with a file, then soak the seeds overnight before planting them in rich soil.

Prune Summer Flowering Shrubs

Early spring, before new growth begins, is the time to prune shrubs that flower in summer, including rose-of-sharon, panicle hydrangea, potentilla and Japanese spirea. These all produce flowers on the current season's wood, so dormant season pruning allows you to shape plants or control their size without interfering with flowering.

Prune Out Black Knot

Check fruiting and ornamental cherry trees, including chokecherries, for the black, corky galls on branches that indicate infection by black knot fungus. These swellings may be several inches up to about a foot long. Prune them out before they begin discharging their spores, which usually happens around the time of bud break. Make cuts 6 to 8 inches below the knot and sterilize pruners with a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol between cuts. Knots can continue to discharge spores after they have been removed, so burn or bury them or place in a plastic bag and send to a landfill. Look for and prune out younger, smaller, greenish galls as well. Also check nearby wild Prunus species for infection.

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