February 19, 2008

It’s Time for Spring Clean-up in the Landscape

Pam Brown,Urban Horticulture Extension Agent By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

The end of February and into March brings much warmer weather and plants in our landscape start to spring forth with new growth. This is the time of year when we want to refresh the landscape by removing any damage that was caused by cold weather, cleaning up leaves and other plant debris that collected under plants during the winter, planting annuals for spring and summer, and applying a fresh layer of mulch.

pruningNow is the time to look at those plants that were damaged by the recent freeze that we had in most parts of the county. Plants that lost their leaves should be sprouting now. Prune these plants back to healthy sprouting buds that are growing to the outside of the plant by making pruning cuts at a slight angle about ¼ inch above the bud. Some plants may be only sprouting from the base or roots of the plant and you will need to prune the stems back to this growth area.

Cleaning up leaves and other plant debris that have fallen to the ground and removing diseased leaves and fruit is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to manage many of the leaf-spotting, powdery mildew, bud and flower blight, and canker fungi. This is because many of these fungi overwinter on plant debris. When this fungi produces spores, wind, irrigation and rain can disseminate them to other areas of the garden or landscape. Camellias and azaleas are susceptible to petal blight causing the flowers to turn brown and rot prematurely. All fallen buds, flowers or petals should be removed from under the plants as soon as possible. On camellias especially, if buds or flowers turn brown on the plant, remove as soon as you notice them. Keep your trash can or bag near by to avoid carrying infected debris across the yard.

Contaminated tools can also contribute to the spread of disease. Tools used to prune plants infected with witch's broom, canker, gall and other diseases should be disinfected after each use by dipping the cutting surfaces in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Rubbing alcohol (70%) from the drug store will also work and does not require diluting. Disease can also be carried from plant to plant on hands. So, it is very important to disinfect your hands or gloves. Wash hands well, or you may want to carry into the garden with you some of the gel hand sanitizer that is now available.

In perennial beds, remove old flower heads, stalks, and any diseased plant parts. Examine roses for dead canes and remove them. Examine the shrubs and trees in your yard for dead branches or branches that are crossing and rubbing other branches. Prune these branches out. Pruning paint is not recommended to cover wounds made by pruning cuts.

GaillardiaIf you planted annuals in the fall, such as impatiens, snapdragons, petunias, or geraniums, you may want to prune them back a bit and add some balanced slow release fertilizer. Gazania, Marguerite Daisy, Marigold, Nicotiana, Pentas, Salvias, Dianthus, and narrow-leaf Zinnia are some good annuals to plant in March for color through spring and into the summer. Gaillardia is a really drought tolerant flower that can be seeded directly into the ground near the end of March that will give you drought tolerant flowers all summer long. If you have shady areas where you want some color; Caladium bulbs have wonderful leaf colors.

When all of your clean up efforts are finished, put down a fresh layer of mulch. Be careful to keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the base of plants and not more than two to three inches deep. It is not necessary to remove old mulch beyond raking up diseased leaves and plant debris. Old mulch continues to decay, releasing organic matter and nutrients into the soil.

After clean upOnce you have finished with your clean up – spruce-up activities, you are then ready to sit back, relax with a glass of iced tea and enjoy your handiwork – until those first weeds start showing up. A beautiful garden takes a lot of work, but I think the results are worth the effort!

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