Marianne Binetti: It's warm-up time for gardeners

On GardeningApril 23, 2014 

FILE - Lacey Parks and Recreation Dept. recreation coordinator Cody Lee assists Niurka Torres,11, and her seven year-old sister Amanda in planting one of 20 rose bushes April 11, 2012 as part of the week-long,Spring Break Express day camp.Now in its fifth year the annual parks' project is conducted at the Woodland Creek Community Park,with around 30 day camp kids taking part while breaking into small groups to tackle the plantings. (Steve Bloom/staff photographer)

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian Buy Photo

The end of April means the start of the warm-season garden.

It may still be too early to set out heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, geraniums and marigolds, but you can continue to seed cool-season carrots, lettuce, kale, radish and cabbage into the vegetable garden. In your flower garden, add flowering vines such as clematis and roses and all types of shrubs, from evergreen conifers to fully blooming rhododendrons, and from fragrant lilacs to ground-hugging heathers.

If you’re planning a new landscape or improving a garden bed, here are the most asked reader questions to help your dreaming and scheming:

Question: I want something in bloom all year long in my garden. I have tried growing perennials but can’t seem to keep the weeds out of the beds or the plants staked up properly when they bloom. I think shrubs will be less work. What flowering shrubs do you suggest for long-lasting color? — K.L., Puyallup

Answer: Start with forsythia for February flowers, then add viburnums, lilacs, rhododendrons and azaleas for years of color.

In the summer, celebrate the easy-care spiraeas and landscape roses, such as the Flower Carpet shrub roses or Knock Out roses as these are the disease-resistant varieties that will never need spraying.

As fall approaches enjoy the big, bold blooms of hydrangeas, including the cream and peach flowers of the sun-loving pee gee hydrangea and the fiery fall foliage of the Oakleaf hydrangea.

Winter color from Beauty Berry and cotoneaster will offer eye candy during the darkest days. There is an easy way to make sure something is in flower every day of the year in your garden – just visit a nursery once a month and invest in the shrubs that happen to be looking their best. One year and a dozen shrubs later you’ll have yearlong color in the landscape.

Q.: We just moved into a new home. There is a rocky slope with giant boulders and it is in a sunny spot. I would like to turn this into a rock garden but I am not very good at weeding. What plants are easy to grow on a sunny slope and could keep down the weeds?

A.: You can enjoy the bright blooms of creeping phlox on a sunny slope and this low-growing evergreen will help to crowd out weeds as it flows over the ground.

For tiny crevices, poke bits of sedum Angelina into cracks and openings before weed seeds can get a start.

The pure white blooms of Iberis candytuft are drought-resistant as are most plants with gray foliage, such as the creeping thymes, artemisia, lamb’s ear and basket-of-gold alyssum montanum with fragrant yellow flowers.

Don’t stop with just perennial plants. Low-growing rock garden tulips will return year after year and if you amend the soil with peat moss, then water well the first year after planting and you may be able to grow heathers on a sunny slope. The best way to control weeds in any rock garden is to hand pull young weeds in early spring before they can set seed.

Q.: I have a problem area in a shaded bed. There are also tree roots that make this a very dry shade situation. So far I have already watched azaleas, pieris, fuchsias and rhododendrons die in this area. I am done wasting money and want to know what plants will survive. — R.M., Auburn

A. Dry shade can be the happy home of native plants such as sword ferns and huckleberries or you can loosen the soil, add some compost and introduce some aggressive groundcovers such as vinca minor, crane’s bill geranium or lamium.

You will need to water the first summer after planting in dry shade to establish the root system of your new plants.

If you’re after colorful blooms, consider placing large pots under the trees or hang baskets of flowers suspended from the overhanging tree branches. Depending on how much shade and how much compost you are willing to add to the soil you can also grow tough perennials such as euphorbias, peonies, hellebores, lady’s mantle and hosta.

A mulch such as bark chips on top of the soil will help to seal in moisture and keep out weeds. Dry shade is not a death sentence, but it is a prison where only the very tough will survive. Just don’t let these aggressive survivors escape from confinement — some are thugs that will overpower your less assertive plants.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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