Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time for Spring Pruning and Planting

Well, it sure seems as if December's brief cold blast was all the punch that winter had in store for us this year. All the trees, shrubs, and perennials seem to "think" so too, and are blooming or leafing out early everywhere.

I tend to be conservative on making weather assumptions, especially given that last year we had snow in April. So I held off on pruning my roses until this week, even though I live in the city where it tends to be warmer than outlying areas. I do think it's safe to prune them now no matter where you live, but it also won't hurt to wait a couple more weeks if you want to play it safe.

On the other hand, deciduous ornamental grasses, ferns, and summer perennials should definitely be cut back close to the ground now, before their new growth makes the job really difficult.

However, evergreen grasses such as Blue Oat Grass, Pheasant Tail Grass, (pictured) and others should not get the typical "butch haircut" of the deciduous grasses, unless they have taken a heavy hit from the winter. Instead, just pull your fingers gently through them and the dead blades (usually on the underside) should come off easily in your hands. Evergreen ferns such as Sword Fern can be cut back fully or just trimmed of their dead fronds, whichever you prefer. I tend to prune them off every year only in the most prominent places in my garden, such as next to my back porch (pictured), and let the others in in background areas go 2-3 years between major cutbacks.

If you need to transplant any of your Ferns, this is a good time to do so, before they begin to unfurl all their new fronds. They can indeed be hard to dig because of their fibrous mat of roots, but the good news is that they put up with a lot of root disturbance.

I have a very informal garden as many of you know, so I just chop up the leaves and stems from most all my spring cutbacks, and use them to mulch the soil. By summer, much of these cuttings have decomposed and disappeared into the soil, feeding the plants and helping to protect the soil from the compaction of spring rains. Also, if a severe late spring freeze is predicted, I can quickly pile it up around the base of their crowns temporarily for a little extra protection.

Another important thing to do this time of year is to get winter weeds under control before they go to seed in your garden and make more work for you. Shotweed (pictured below) is one of the quickest to set seed, so prioritize your attention on that one for sure.

Spring is also a great time to plant new trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, and vegetables. If you would like to attend a FREE class on edible landscaping, or on which plants can make your garden more attractive to birds. other wildlife, or children, check the list in my other February posting for the classes I am teaching throughout the region this spring.

If you are most interested in adding fruit trees to your garden, there is a fabulous FREE opportunity coming up soon, to help you choose which varieties are best for you and learn how to manage your fruit trees successfully. The Seattle Tree Fruit Society's annual spring event will be on Sun. March 14th from 10am-3pm at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Interactive booths, FREE classes on fruit varieties, pest prevention and management, and more. For info, visit

And if you are already growing fruit trees, this is the best time to get prepared for your annual pruning. Visit for a list of their classes.

Plant Amnesty offers a great series of classes and hands-on workshops on all types of pruning, from trees to groundcovers to vines. Their schedule can be found at

And of course if you'd like customized advice on plants to add to your garden, or a one-on-one pruning lesson on your plants, you can always schedule an appointment with me!

Spring 2010 Speaking Engagements and Classes

Most of you know that I also have been doing speaking engagements and classes for many years, on a variety of natural gardening and design topics. * This year, I've decided to start listing the events that are open to the public, even though the organizations that hire me for these events do a lot of promotion of their own. The talks or classes listed below are all FREE, and all involve Q & A time at the end. I hope to see your smiling face in the crowd sometime!

Saturday April 10th from 9-10am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's beautiful and amazing new wetlands. April's theme: "Wetland Wake-up", focused on spring-blooming native shrubs, the end of hibernation for resident amphibians and bats, etc. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Saturday April 10th from 10:30am-2:00pm FREE Celebrate Urban Nature family event at Magnuson Community Center, 7110 62nd Ave NE in Seattle. There will be a host of activities including interactive booths, arts & crafts, nature-games carnival, Woodland Park Raptors and Roving Reptiles shows, a nature-themed concert by Caspar Babypants, and more! I will be doing a family-friendly garden class from 11:30am-12:30pm on "How to Create a Bird-friendly Landscape", and will be hosting various other activities throughout the day. Registration is requested for the class, but walk-ins are welcome. For more info, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Thursday April 22nd from 6-8pm: FREE Brier Natural Gardening Series, held at the Brier City Hall. I will be speaking on the topics of "Natural Yard Care" and "Child-Friendly Garden Design". Registration is required by emailing For more info, email or call 425-335-5634, ext 108.

Saturday April 24th from 9am-3:30pm:
FREE Spring Garden Fair, held at the UW Bothell Campus. I will be speaking from 1:15-2:15pm on the topic of "Wildlife-Friendly Gardening- for Beauty and Sustainability" and from 2:30-3:30pm on "Edible Landscapes- Vegetable Gardens and so Much More". My friend Ciscoe will be taping his radio show here and giving a talk too!

Saturday May 1st from 10-11am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's new wetlands. This month's theme: "Tadpoles and Nestlings", focused on how wetlands are a wonderful nursery where all sorts of new life begins. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Saturday May 1st from 11:30am-12:30pm FREE family-friendly class at the Magnuson Children's Garden, on "How to Create a Child-Friendly Garden". This delightful garden contains a host of features that can be used in your own home landscape. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Sunday May 2nd from 1-2pm: FREE (with the caveat that you will be tempted to buy plants) Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. I will be speaking on the topic of "Gardening with Native Plants". For more info on the sale, visit
Saturday June 5th from 10-11am: FREE Family Wetland Walk at Magnuson Park's new wetlands. This month's theme: "Spring Migration", will focus on the migratory birds who have arrived in the wetlands to spend the summer months. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. For info and directions, call the Magnuson Community Center at 206-684-7026.

Family Wetland Walks, each with a different theme, will continue on the first Saturday of each month, until November 6th. Besides all these adult and family oriented classes, I also teach Nature explorer camps and classes for children ages 4-12. For a complete schedule of those events, visit

For more details on
any of the nature programs at Magnuson Park, visit and browse through the Parks Dept. brochure in the SPARC link.


* Since 1995, I've been involved in teaching about organic gardening at local schools, child care centers, nurseries, conferences and seminars, as a volunteer for King Co. Master Gardeners, and as a former staff member of Seattle Tilth. The movement towards sustainable gardening and landscaping continues forward each year with more momentum, and with an increasing number of great local organizations that are dedicated to public education about these topics. I am happy to be part of growing that movement, especially towards FREE education such as in all the events listed above!