Spring Awakening

Spring has officially arrived. Really. Despite the rains and clouds, the crocuses and daffodils are popping up and new green leaves are emerging. As I write this the sun is pushing the clouds away and the temps are reaching for the 50s. The birds are at the feeding stations and have you heard the frogs?  It’s like a symphony in the neighborhood.  The spring awakening is such a special time.

Some things to consider for beautifying your landscape in late March and early April:

  • Now is the best time to purchase perennial plants at the nursery.
  • Continue weeding to prevent seed maturation. If you weed seriously now, summer weeding will be a breeze! And if you are going to use a pre-emergent weed control, now is a good time.
  • Continue baiting for slugs.
  • This is the last good month for transplanting. If a plant is starting to sprout, it might be best to just leave it and wait for next fall to move it.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after the blossoms fade.
  • Trim or shear winter-blooming heathers when the bloom period is finished.
  • Fertilize rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas with compost or, only if necessary, an acid-type fertilizer. (An indicator is that the leaves are yellow)
  • Spread mulch over garden and landscape areas that didn’t get mulched last month.
  • Lawn-mowing begins; set blade ¾ to 1” for bent grass lawns; set blade 1 1/2” to 2 ½” for fine fescue and ryegrasses. In other words, set it as low as you can without damaging the lawn. It will look really shorn. It might take three tries to get it to the level that you want. The grass will be wet and green.
  • First application of lawn fertilizer this year after the first mowing. Our preference is an organic fertilizer (non-petrochemical). (Or, something like 16-5-5).
  • Fertilize cane berries with manure/compost (or, 10-10-10).

Prune out dead wood on blueberries and gooseberries and keep them from getting too big, then spread wood shavings and as needed manure/compost.

Iris unguicularis (Algerian Iris)

I planted our winter-blooming Algerian Iris by our driveway in a gravelly spot in full sun. Bonus: It has a great ability to flower right out there, when few other plants dare do anything. The narrow green strappy leaves, are evergreen and only 18 inches tall, and make a dense deer-resistant clump to about the same distance across. It does not like shade at all and must have very good drainage.

Starting in November (weather permitting), the clumps begin to flower with two-inch, fragrant, light lavender-purple flowers. It is a vigorous plant that slowly spreads by rhizomes (also known as rootstalk, or rootstock – the horizontal stem of a plant from which a variety of individual plants can grow – great for filling in spaces, such as alongside my driveway!). The blooms make good cut flowers arrangements, but if you do not slug bait, all of them will have some chew spots

They can continue to bloom through April (temporarily ceasing when the temperature drops below 15 degrees F). The Royal Horticultural Society named Iris unguicularis as one of the top 200 plants of the last 200 years!

This plant is great for rock gardens, raised beds, banks, slopes and containers. It can even handle coastal gardens. It is one tough plant.  It seems to handle our zone 8 climate with no problem.  I have only seen a little leaf burn when the temps got down to 12 F.

I cut the foliage down to about two inches in the late fall once it is obvious to me that it is starting to bloom. This shows off the flowers better.

It does not like being dug up and disturbed, but sections can be dug up off the sides to give to your friends and family. Be forewarned, thought, it takes more than a year to make it happy again. The center of my clump tends to give out, but I put compost and fertilizer in the middle and it grows back.

I am told that it can cause indigestion if eaten. Do not eat it.

With these few exceptions, I just leave it alone most of the year:

  • Trim back the foliage just before it breaks into bloom.
  • Bait for slugs at the same time.
  • Add a circle around it of compost and manure in March.