Spring gardening chores

By Bill McCaleb, VCE Southside Master Gardener Association Coordinator Spring is about on top of us now. Pruning some of our trees and shrubs needs to be done, except for those that bloom on old wood. Certain bushes set buds for the next year’s show a month or so after they have finished blooming. If you prune them after that time, you will cut off the flowers for the next year. Examples of trees and bushes not to prune in the spring: spring-blooming Spirea, Camellia, Rhododendron (including all Azalea), Forsythia, Hydrangea Macrophylla (Bigleaf), Syringa (Lilac), Magnolia, Kalmia (Mountain Laurel), and Weigela. Here are some trees and bushes that should be definitely pruned in the spring. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood), Lonicera (Honeysuckle), Hydrangea paniculata, Cercis (Redbud), summer blooming Spirea, Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle), Rose, and Wisteria.
Spring blooming azaleas are a bright spot in the yard in spring. Be sure to prune these at the correct time to assure blooms for next year. Now is the time to divide perennials. They all spread and, for the sake of their health, should be divided every few years. I like to use the 3-5 year rule. If you wait more than four years the bulbs won’t be as healthy as those done every three years, especially the iris. It should be noted that iris is a rhizome and not a true bulb. Therefore, the foliage can be cut back when it starts to look ratty. Dividing every 3 years gives each newly divided plant space to grow and, as an added plus, it gives the gardener more – and free plants to sell at the plant sale or to put somewhere else in the landscape and just enjoy or maybe give away to brighten someone else’s garden Now is a good time to start planting various hardy vegetables and could have been planted two weeks ahead of our last average frost date of April 15. Still a good time to get onions, potatoes, artichokes, peas and some lettuces in the ground. Normally I would already have fresh lettuce growing in containers on my deck, but I haven’t had that opportunity this year to make that happen. Seed just went in the containers today so I should be eating fresh lettuce in about 20 days. Hopefully you started some tender crops such as tomato, some of your favorite herbs and peppers in trays indoors near a sunny window. Yes, you will need a gro-light to assist these young plants so they don’t get leggy. The great thing about today’s seed packets, they tell it all. How much light the plant needs, length to germination, and with tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, you start those anywhere from six to ten weeks before the last frost. Officially the last frost in our area, is generally around April 15th. Despite all the hype about global warming, I am a realist. April 15 has been the last frost date for the past 76 years of my life. Now is a good time to apply mulch. A thick layer of mulch will help to keep weeds from sprouting up. If you are planting seed outdoors, you’d want to wait until the plants are up and visible before mulching that portion of the garden, but if you’ve put in starter plants, by all means put a thick layer of mulch around them to keep the weeds at bay. Now is the time to prepare or construct new garden beds to be sure you have room for everything you want to plant. If you’re apt to buy just about every flower, bush or tree you see this may be extremely difficult. This was just a short quick list of what the gardener or farmer of today should do to prepare for spring planting, but I had to wonder how it might have changed over the years from what early populations have done and what might have been necessary for different crops grown by people in different agricultural surroundings. One day I hope to write an article about our earliest farmers before Virginia was settled. I have already read several studies and books on native farmers and how they made everything go and grow. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to wmccaleb@vt.edu. If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and enjoy working in the garden this spring.