Perennials are plants that return to our gardens each year for a period of three or more years. Perennials endure, often recovering from a winter completely hidden beneath the soil. Some manage to hold on to a structure of leaf, branch or stem throughout the winter. When spring comes, trim away tattered foliage. Certain plants, such as the leafy epimedium and many ornamental grasses, respond to cutting back all spent foliage. New growth emerges fresh and vibrant.
Although flowers are the ultimate goal of many gardens, they play a short role in the life cycle of most plants. Nursery growers continually search for the holy grail of retail nurseries: a flowering perennial that will bloom continuously throughout the year. In the real world, most perennials bloom for an average duration of one to three weeks. For the best chance of a second flush of bloom, cut flowering stems back as soon as individual flowers begin to fade.
April is an excellent time to plant conifers and broad-leaved evergreens, as well as any deciduous trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers that you want to add to the spring garden. Once you have finished planting, it will be your job to make sure that new plantings get enough water to help them become established, especially in the event of dry spells during the first month or two. While you're at it, check the water needs of any plants that are situated under the eaves of the house or at the base of evergreens.
Water to equal one inch of rainfall per week. Spring-flowering bulbs need water until the leaves and plant stalks begin to yellow. Water tulips with a soft spray from the side rather than from above so you don't weaken the form of the flower. Once you bring any potted plants out of winter storage, check the soil moisture, especially if they have been under the eaves or up against the side of the house.
Turn your compost pile to help accelerate the process of decomposition once the temperature begins to warm up. Pull weeds while their roots are shallow and before they set seed. This is one of those jobs that are easiest to do early in the season, especially after a couple days of rain. If there are brown spots in your lawn, make repairs now. Rake over the spots and add a thin layer of compost. Follow this by lightly seeding over the entire area.
You can also fertilize the lawn with a high nitrogen feeder to encourage greening before new growth gets too high. The last couple of weeks of rain have given lawns a burst of growth, so it's likely that you'll have to begin mowing on a regular basis. If you're putting in a new lawn, you can sod or seed anytime this month. Top dress and reseed bare spots in established lawns. Keep the seed moist and begin mowing when the grass is three inches high. Be sure to use a lawn seed made for our unique garden conditions. The packaging should be clearly marked for planting in the Pacific Northwest.
For those concerned with moss in the lawn, early spring is the time to treat grassy areas with iron. Many lawn owners choose to deny the reality that lawns that have moss will continue to have moss unless the conditions that cause the moss to grow are changed. If you don't correct the conditions, killing off the moss will only be a temporary fix. Aerate the lawn area and prune back branches of trees that shade the lawn. If you can't correct the situation, now is the time to consider removing grass from this area altogether and planting one of many wonderful, low-maintenance ground covers.
Weekend plant sale
Mark your calendar for the Annual Mother's Day Weekend Plant Sale for the Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County. This is one of the most extensive plant sales in Clark County. WSU Extension Master Gardeners and Foundation members have spent many months raising and caring for a huge assortment of beautiful, healthy plants of every kind. Funds raised during this sale benefit the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program and many community and education programs. Your purchases support food- and garden-growing education programs all over Clark County.
When: 9 a.m. to 4.p.m May 10 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 11.
Where: Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver.5
This sale offers huge annual sale of perennials, annuals, vegetables, trees, shrubs, houseplants, hanging baskets, herbs and flower bowls. You'll find great selection and fabulous prices. Bring your carts and wagons. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions. For more information, visit www.mgfcc.com.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.