Early spring means it is time to prune roses, ornamental grasses and fruit trees. This is also a good week to check your overwintering geraniums, dahlia tubers and begonia corms to make sure they aren’t drying out.
Did you find a paper bag of daffodil or tulips bulbs that you forgot to plant in the fall? Go ahead and plant them as soon as they are discovered. Sometimes these forgotten spring bloomers will forgive and forget so long as they were allowed to experience the chill of winter in an unheated garage or shed.
Once in the ground, late-planted bulbs may bloom but the flowers that pop up could be months behind schedule.
Q: We have a new home and with it came a whole bunch of rose plants. I have no idea how to prune them or what the names are. Should I call in a professional or is this something a novice gardener can handle? — F.G., Renton
A: Get yourself a pair of long-handled lobbers and a pair of sharp, hand pruners and take command of the situation. You are not going to kill a rose plant by pruning incorrectly.
Many roses grow just fine without any pruning at all. Use the long-handled loppers on rose stems or trunks that are thicker than your thumb. The smaller hand pruners can be used on smaller stems.
In our mild winter climate you can usually just shorten everything by one third and remove branches that look dead, diseased or damaged. Try to make an open-vase shape by snipping off branches that are small and heading in toward the middle of the shrub.
Wear thick gloves, rake up the pruning crumbs and you’re done. If this job still sounds daunting, contact a garden coach or a rosarian from a local rose society for one-on-one instruction. Once your rose plants are in flower they will be much easier for a rosarian or local nursery to identify.
Q: We have a few overgrown clumps of ornamental grass in our landscape. I believe it is Miscanthus grass. Right now the tall grass is dead and brown from winter. When can I safely prune these brown clumps? — T.P., Olympia
A: I like to suggest a Valentine’s Day massacre on all ornamental grasses that have gone brown and dormant. Cutting back giant clumps of grasses in cleanup during early spring makes room for the new grass blades that are just starting to push up through the old clumps.
You don’t have to do the dirty deed on any exact date as long as you cut back the old brown blades before it gets tangled with the new shoots. This means mid-February through the end of March is a good time to trim grasses to within a few inches of the ground.
Q: My beautiful hellebores are blooming. I love this winter flowering perennial, but I seem to remember you spoke at a class about removing old foliage before the new leaves come out. I never did that. Now what should I do?. — P.P. email
A: Hellebores are heavenly plants that forgive most mistakes and they may not mind if you forget to snip off the ratty looking leaves from last summer.
The reason to remove the old leaves is so that you more easily see and enjoy the new flowers and to prevent the spread of fungal infections that can grow on last year’s foliage.
Black spots and leaf spots won’t spread to the blossoms if you clip off the leaf and the leaf stem very close to the center of the plant. Fresh new leaves will sprout after the flowers finish near the end of the spring season.
As long as you’re outside nose to nose with your hellebores, you might as well snip a few of the open blooms and bring them indoors to float in a bowl or teacup of water.