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  • Writer's pictureBette Allen, MD

Coping with Capricious Spring

On the calendar spring arrived in March. Yet April brings erratic shifts in weather. After the cold gray days of winter, you may find the flowers and vegetables pictured in seed catalogs very enticing. Resist the urge to plant these too soon. While cool season vegetables like this weather, the last frost date for our area is forecast for mid-to-late April. Summer annuals planted before this time may freeze or get blown away. What can we do to embrace the changing season? Here I'm sharing some spring garden tips.

April 1, 2024 vs April 25, 2023 in the Foothills

You may have already noticed green leaves sprouting around your perennials. The dry sprigs above that provided habitat and food, can now be cut back. Some ornamental grasses should also be pruned back. For warm season grasses (blue grama, muhly, giant sacaton, little and big bluestem), cut the dry stems back to 2-4 inches in length. For cool season grasses (blue avena, fescue, silky thread grass, feather reed grass), use your fingers to comb out the dead stems and trim off the dead seedheads.

This season is also an ideal time for pruning. This applies to shade trees, fruit trees, summer blooming shrubs, and grape vines. If you have young trees, you may be able to prune them yourself, with guidance from your local extension agent. If ladders are involved it is best to seek advice from an arborist. Look at this article on Tree Pruning Techniques.

Before you take out your clippers, consider whether the shrub you wish to trim will bloom later this spring or in the summer. Spring blooming shrubs (winter jasmine, forsythia, lilacs, wisteria, mahonia, native roses) should be pruned after they bloom. Summer blooming shrubs include crepe myrtle, butterfly bush, Russian sage and Spanish broom. These benefit from “rejuvenation cuts” while dormant. Remove the oldest stems from the base every 2-3 years. This encourages more flowering and helps to control size.

This is also an opportunity to sprinkle a wild flower mix (from your local nursery) to attract beneficial and pollinating insects. A mix gives best results when sprinkled on bare ground with the weeds removed. The mix likely contains some annuals that will bloom this year, perennials which will bloom next year and biennials which will bloom the second year. Because of the variety of seeds, sowing directions may be confusing. Some seeds need to be planted before or after the last frost in the spring, before the summer rains, after the last killing frost in the fall/winter. So, try sowing seeds at intervals.

While you’re thinking about all the projects undone from last year and waiting for seeds to sprout, remember the truly magical aspects of your garden - the return of birds to feeders, the sight and scent of fruit trees in bloom, the surprise of spring bulbs blooming, the path that draws your eyes around a corner, longer days that allow you sunny evenings. Remember to keep a spot from which you can watch the rain, snow, wind, sun and shade as they move through your space.


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