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As spring comes, bulbs are the first to appear in the garden. Move any mulch away from the bulbs, but leave it nearby so that if a frosty night might threaten, the mulch can be placed over the bulbs for protection.
If the ever-growing deer population is a problem to your bulbs and spring garden, try cocoa bean mulch.
It is important to leave mulch on perennials as long as possible. Once the temperatures are above the freezing point and the perennials are actively growing, the mulch can be removed.
Throughout the winter, ornamental grasses add much texture to the winter garden. In the spring it is essential to cut down the ornamental grass to about 6 inches or just above the green growth that starts to grow in the early spring.
Be sure not to prune any spring blooming shrubs such as azaleas, spirea or lilacs. If you are really anxious for spring, force a few branches of forsythia or pussy willow for a fresh look indoors!
Don't till the ground when it's wet.
Don't rush to plant annuals.. remember temperatures still dip in Western PA throughout May.
Be sure to add a top-dressing of mulch to your plantings. When planting later in the fall, check the perennials to make sure they have not heaved out of the ground as the ground freezes and thaws. We have compost and mulch available at the nursery.
One of the most often asked questions is "Every year I plant mums in the Fall and they never come back. What do I need to do to make them come back next year?" Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your chrysanthemums during the season, and how to overwinter your mums to give them the best chance for survival. Many of the tips are just as beneficial for other perennials, not just mums.
Planting Info: Hardy mums do best in a location with at least a half-day sun. A fertile, well-drained soil is best for mums; compost, peat moss or other organic matter can be used to improve the soil although no additional fertilizer is needed when planting in the fall. After planting, thoroughly water-in your mums to give them a good head start. You may need to water during long periods of dry, hot weather. Space mums 18-24" apart to allow for continued growth. Spent blooms can be removed to encourage further flowering and improve overall plant appearance. During the growing season (March-August) a general purpose fertilizer such as 5-10-5 can be applied monthly.
Overwintering: Mums should be planted in the ground as early as possible in order to maximize their chances of winter survival. By planting them early, you allow the root system to establish before frost and winter arrives. The more extensive the root system, the better chance your mums re-appear next year.
After blooming is finished take these steps to protect your mums from the winter weather.
1. Keep soil moist, but not overly wet, as winter approaches.
2. Pruning is not necessary until spring; if you choose to cut back mums leave 6-8" of growth.
3. Mulch plants after several hard frosts with organic matter such as leaves, straw, grass clippings, or evergreen branches. DO NOT USE PLASTIC to mulch. Mums need to breathe even in their dormant state; by using plastic you trap moisture and effectively suffocate the plant.
4. In the spring, gradually remove the mulch and the old mum stems using a rake to allow for the soil to warm and new growth to appear.
Rainy conditions are prime for fostering fungi and other nasty plant diseases, so when you can, get out and clean up your plants. Remove dead or unhealthy leaves. Be sure to collect your clippings rather than leaving them lay on the ground, because that would be a breeding ground for plant diseases.
Testing drainage - If you are not sure if your garden areas have good drainage, run a soil percolation test. Dig a 12-inch diameter hole, fill with water and let it drain. Fill the hole with water again. The water should drain in less than one hour. If it does not, drainage needs to be improved with further soil preparation. If the garden area is in a low spot, good drainage is necessary, especially in wet seasons. If puddles tend to stick around for more than half a day following a good rain, or if the soil is constantly soggy, there is definitely a drainage problem.
Powdery mildew is a unique fungus that thrives on high humidity and poor air circulation. It can rob a plant of water and nutrients, cause leaf yellowing and even distort the plant. There are several mildew-resistant Phlox and Monarda varieties available for the perennial garden. Some may not be totally resistant to the disease but that also depends on the weather. It is necessary to provide adequate spacing when planting these perennials, allowing for good air circulation, and keeping them away from walls or thick hedges. Thinning of mildew-prone perennials is often recommended to provide air movement. If a plant becomes infected, cut the plant down to the ground. Next year the plant should produce a fresh clean growth. Also, be sure to disinfect your clippers or pruners with a 10% bleach solution ( 1 part bleach/9 parts water) to reduce the chance of spreading the disease. Our best advice to you is to select the more resistant varieties of Phlox, Monarda, and Pulmonaria, as these perennials are most prone to powdery mildew.
Natural composting is beneficial to the soil, helps recycle kitchen waste, and reduces household waste. Compost is natural organic fertilizer made of decomposed vegetable waste. Composting is simple and produces nutrient-rich, earth smelling conditioners for your garden, window boxes, flower beds, and planters. Any natural waste can be used to compost such as fallen leaves, weeds, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, egg shells, and coffee grounds. It's a natural way to improve soil condition. Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash can be purchased as concentrated natural fertilizers. Nitrogen (N) produces dark green color in the plant: increases the growth of stems; influences crispness and quality of leaf crops; and stimulates raid early growth. Soil lacking in Nitrogen will produce plants that fade to light green or yellow, new leaves and shoots that are smaller than normal or a slow, stunted growth. Phosphorus (P) stimulates root formation and growth; gives seedlings a rapid and vigorous start; is essential for formation of flowers and seeds. Soil lacking in Phosphorus will produce red or purple areas on older leaves, fewer flowers or fruits than normal, and growth is very slow. Potash (K) increases overall vigor, disease resistance and cold hardiness; stimulates production of strong, stiff stalks; improves quality of crop yield; promotes production of sugar, starches and oil; and increases plumpness in grains and seeds. Soil lacking in Potash will produce patch yellow or dead spots on older leaves and spread to new leaves; reduce vigor, increase susceptibility to diseases: produce weak or short stems and small fruits with thin skins. Remember, as we need to mix good things into our everyday lives for happiness and peace, the earth also needs a boost to produce healthy fruits, flowers, and vegetables.
There are as many gardening books as there are gardeners, it seems. A gardening reference book (or two) is essential to help identify and fix problems in the perennial garden, give you proper names of plants, and tips on care of specific perennials beyond what is given on a plant tag. We recommend the following because of their breadth of knowledge and ability to identify problems and instruct in plain English.
Ball, Liz 2001. Month-by-Month Gardening in Pennsylvania. Cool Springs Press Inc.
Calkins, C.C. 1978. Readers Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening. Readers Digest Association, Inc.
Armitage Allen M., 1989 Herbaceous Perennial Plants. Athens, GA: Varsity Press.
DiSabato-Aust, Tracy. 1998. The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. Timber Press Inc.
National Gardening Association. 1994. Dictionary of Horticulture. Penguin Books USA, Inc.