Every year there comes a point in time when we find ourselves juggling an endless list of garden chores. Mine seems to have come early this year. As the growing season kicks in, there's always the need to deadhead spent flowers, fertilize perennials and roses and fill gaps in planting borders with annual bedding plants.
I woke up to sunlight this morning. What a joy it is to feel the sun on your face as you step out into the garden. It's May and it's springtime and my garden is alive with activity. I could hear the bees humming as I began my garden walk this morning. They swarm the shrubby, floriferous Mediterranean heathers. They hang onto azalea blossoms and make the twiggy branches arch and sway under their weight. They rise up slowly and then buzz off to search for more May flowers.
May certainly seems like the busiest time of year in the garden. All of a sudden, the once-dormant lawn needs regular mowing. Letting it go another week is no longer an option. Weeds that were nonexistent two weeks ago are now ready to set seed. The rhododendron began to bloom a couple of weeks ago. Within the next couple of weeks, we need to remove its sticky, spent flower heads. At this time of year, one garden chore leads to another.
The key to understanding how to prune is to answer the question, "What is the purpose for pruning this particular plant?" The most effective reasons for pruning are to help establish the shape of a plant along its natural lines; to improve flower or fruit production; to control the time of bloom, as in pinching back chrysanthemums, and for espalier and hedge shaping. These are all methods of seasonal pruning that enhance a plant's best qualities.
Everywhere I go, there is talk of spring, yet I find myself inside looking out more than outside working in the garden. If I remember correctly, I've employed this approach to the season before, reveling in the rites of spring while putting off the task of daily garden maintenance. I know what I have to do and I will ultimately do the work that needs to be done. Just give me a few more days to get started.
I can never say exactly what stirs my emotional awakening to spring each year. It seems to be something different from year to year. I do know that it's more than just a date on the calendar. It's a feeling I cannot shake, a sense that something I've been hoping for is within my grasp. I'm not the only one who feels this way. All of my gardening friends have a certain glow about them, as if they have come upon a secret windfall.
If your intention is to plant annuals or annual seeds directly in the garden, remember that those put out a few weeks later in the season often overtake the ones planted earlier. This is simply because they are less likely to receive a weather check to their growth. One of the most common causes of disappointment for novice gardeners is sowing or planting too early in spring. I know many gardeners who lost their first planting to a late frost and had to replant once temperatures warmed for the season.
Sometimes I look at garden chores as if I'm editing a story. My garden is a visual rendering of an idea I would like to share. If I want to hold on to a certain image or style of garden, I need to do a set of chores to keep that image intact. So I edit the garden by tweaking it back into shape. Mowing a lawn is one simple example. Pruning roses is another. Removing the earliest weeds is also a first step in preparing the garden for spring.
By mid-March my fingers are itching to get in the soil and so are the plants I've collected over the last month or two in preparation for spring planting. Unless your garden soil is cold, wet and muddy, this can be the perfect time to begin planting. Nurseries, home improvement centers and even the local markets are bringing in new plants every day for us to add to our early spring beds and borders. On a day when the air temperature is above freezing and the soil is workable, we can begin to plant hardy ornamentals, potted roses, vines, trees and shrubs.
My head is in the clouds and my knees are weak. It must be spring. It all started when I walked into a local nursery and saw the long tables filled with colorful, spring-blooming plants. There were primroses and tulips in four-inch pots. There were gallon-sized perennial crested irises and a selection of shrubs, including the fragrant, variegated daphne. I could smell the hyacinth before I saw them on the shelves.