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!