Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips


Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Invariably I get asked to talk about how to ‘put the garden to bed’ in the fall, but no one asks me to address how to ‘wake up the garden’ in spring. Apparently, there’s no need for that. Warm temperatures and longer days do a pretty good job of that without my help. Gardeners are just itching to get out and get the gardening season started. The timing is perfect, there are a number of garden tasks that require our immediate attention… PRUNING: Flowers and leaves will be popping out any day on many of our fruit trees, shade trees, roses and shrubs. If you haven’t done your winter pruning already, now is a great time before new growth makes it difficult to see the plant’s framework. Keep in mind woody plants don’t ‘need’ to be pruned. Always prune with a legitimate purpose in mind. Good reasons to prune are to remove dead or diseased wood; to correct ill-placed growth where limbs are crowded or rubbing each other; to get rid of growth that’s posing a hazard; to correct growth defects caused by narrow branch angles or past improper pruning, or to encourage better flowering and fruiting. You should have used the winter respite to clean, oil, and sharpen your pruning tools. Do it now, if you didn’t earlier. Now is a good time to consider investing in a quality pair of bypass hand pruners and bypass loppers, and possibly a small pruning saw too. Pruners with a bypass (hook and blade) mechanism make a cleaner cut than anvil types that crush the stem, leaving damaged tissue behind On multi-stemmed flowering shrubs such as forsythia or lilac, you may find you also need a small pruning saw. On these shrubs it’s recommended that you take out 1/3 to 1/5 of the oldest wood, cutting it back to just a few inches above the soil. You should also remove any crowded spindly growth. I do this every spring on my wild and gangly forsythia. It amazes me how much wood I can take out and it still grows and grows. And yes, now is the time to prune your floribunda and tea garden roses, as well as most other types of roses. The proper way to prune varies from type to type. Before you cut, find out the proper way to prune each type. Now is also the time to ‘prune’ or trim ornamental grasses and perennials. You can use hand pruners or scissors to cut back smaller clumps of grasses, but light-duty hedge trimmers will work best for larger clumps. To make cleanup easier, use twine to tie the top growth together and then cut the grass back four to six inches above the soil. New green shoots will soon appear. Trim back dead perennial stems and flowers, if you didn’t get it done late last fall. I also cut back my perennial herbs, like sage, to keep them a bit more tidy and within the bounds of their allotted garden space. The hedge trimmers come in handy for both these jobs too. IRRIGATION: Check out your irrigation system and make sure it works as soon as you have water available. While it wasn’t a harsh winter, damage may still have occurred to sprinklers and drip lines. Before hot weather arrives, check the coverage your sprinklers are providing. You can do this by placing empty straight-sided tin cans in different areas of each zone, radiating out from the sprinkler heads. Run the system for a set amount of time. Measure and compare the amounts of water (by depth) in the cans. If there is a wide disparity, you may need to adjust your heads or get new ones that can provide a more even pattern. The folks at the irrigation supply store should be able to help you with this. Despite our winter precipitation, yard and garden soils are fairly dry right now. As soon as you have irrigation water available give trees, shrubs, gardens, and lawns a thorough watering that moistens the soil to a depth of at least a foot. LAWNS: I know you’re tempted but it’s not time to fertilize the lawn yet. Wait until the first of May for that. It is definitely time to apply crabgrass and weed ‘preventer’ chemicals to your lawn. However, this may lead to a dilemma for you because many of the ‘preventer’ products only come in combination with fertilizer. Stand-a-lone preventers are available, but you’ll have to look a little harder for them. Timing is not as crucial with products containing the chemical dithiopyr because it will provide both preemergence control, as well as some postemergence control of young crabgrass plants. However, before you buy any product, make sure that the weeds you think are crabgrass really are crabgrass. Lots of people are battling Bermuda grass and bentgrass, thinking their problem is crabgrass. If the thatch in your lawn is greater than one-half inch thick, you should consider ‘dethatching’ with thatch removal equipment. This should be done before the middle of April. It also should be done before the application of any weed ‘preventers.’ GARDEN STRUCTURES: As you go about the yard and garden, check out your garden structures for any needed repairs. Now is when it’s easiest to fix arbors and trellises… without the green growth of vines and climbing roses to obscure what might need nailing or wiring. See if any furniture or garden benches needs a new coat of paint or stain. Clean bird baths out thoroughly. Check for loose stepping stones and patio pavers and secure them.

Published: 3/25/2006 11:24 AM

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