Ask the gardening expert



I have heard there is a common rule one follows in the pruning of my spring blooming shrubs; I'm thinking of my lilacs, and mock orange. They are both so huge, and the bloom is way over my head. Where do I begin?

My thought on the subject is that you first need to consider why you are pruning. Do you want to just remove a small portion (this year's top faded blooms) or do a rejuvenation job? The first may require a ladder, and cutting just below the spent blooms. The rejuvenation is a bigger undertaking, but I believe worth the commitment. I'm referring to a three-year overhaul. The goal here is to bring the plant down to a lower level so eventually the blooms will be at a level you can reach and enjoy again. Experts tell us to remove only one-third of the plant each spring. After this year's bloom, take a look within the lower branches of the plant and cut to the ground just the biggest, and oldest-looking ones (do it soon, don't wait until the end of summer). Make sure to remove no more than one-third this year. Next year another third. (You'll be seeing lots of new growth from last year's pruning, that's your "new shrub" in the making.) Then finally in the third year, it's the last tall branches to be removed. By now you will see you have a revitalized shrub. (If you follow this method, just know you won't see blooms for a year or two on that new growth, since you are creating a "new shrub" and it needs to mature to a point that blooms are able to form.) Continue to remove one-third of the branches each year, after the blooms are finished.

There are many spring blooming shrubs that benefit from this method, including deutzia, spiraea, abelia, rhododendron, forsythia, and of course lilac and mock orange.

Did I understand you to say that I'll need to remove all the spidery things that use to be blooms on my rhododendrons or it won't bloom next year? I work and just don't think I could manage the time to do it.

I'm so sorry if I left you with that impression; you needn't even worry one bit if you don't have time to remove the spent flowers. I only suggest it for aesthetic reasons.

Removing them gives a neater appearance, but by no means does leaving them on affect the ability of the plant to bloom next spring.

I would like to put out a bird feeder, but I remember my family had an awful time with odd grasses and plants that grew up under the feeder. I don't want to see that happening in my yard, What can I do to prevent it?

This surely can happen. You sound like a conscientious person who will take the time to learn the responsible ways to get into bird feeding. There are a few strategies that might keep the invader seed from becoming a major pain. Check with a local bird shop. There are several in Clark County. They will be able to advise you on the proper methods and practices as a beginner in the use of bird feeders and seed.

If there is already sprouting under the feeder, you might do several things: mow regularly to keep seed from forming; keep that spot cultivated; some say to plant a shrub or other plant under the feeder. I'm not sure about that idea, because I feel you could miss seeing grass seeds maturing within the shrub. Ask the store clerk to guide you to sterile seed that has been heat treated to destroy the seed's ability to sprout.

I've seen some pink plants growing along the freeways, can you tell me what they are?

I'm not sure which roads you have been noticing these plants along but I also have seen plants in bloom along the county and state roads and freeways. The pink ones I've seen just recently are a rose, a spriea, and cictus. The spirea — I'm not sure of the variety — but they usually stay small to medium height; some have a tendency to reseed. Another pink one is along I-205, it's a variety of wild rose, maybe a regousa type, hard to tell at 60 mph — err — I mean 55.

At the intersection of 503 and 502 west entrance to Battle Ground, there are many cistus shrubs blooming. I cannot tell you the variety there either. They have a large pink open roselike bloom. They are very cute shrubs, they stay small to medium in size. I was so taken by them the first year they were blooming in that intersection, that I bought seven of them. The information on them said they were drought-tolerant, so I planted them in a sunny border. Well, that winter Mom Nature took care of that, and they all died in the cold icy east wind. I'd like to say lesson learned, but, probably not.

I'd plant them again, but in a more protected area.

I'd make a guess you might find all three species in a full garden center, such as Shorty's, Yard & Garden Land or Tsugawa Nursery. A large enough nursery that can afford to have a larger variety of plant material in its yards.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to