Timeto rev up the garden activities

Published on Thu, Mar 30, 2006 by oreen Trudel

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Time to rev up the garden activities

By Doreen Trudel

Now that spring is in bloom there is no time to sip tea by the fireplace, it is time to get out in the garden and work, work, work. There are beds to dig, weeds to pull, shrubs to plant, seeds to sow and lawns to mow.
As floppy perennials such as Peonies start to appear it is a good time to install supports which they will need later in the season. You can purchase metal rings which work well or make your own from stakes and twine.

Rhododendrons and Azaleas will begin blooming in nurseries soon so it is time to care for existing rhodos and plan for new additions to your garden.

I try to buy Rhododendrons in bloom so I know the color and flower type matches the tag. Rhododendrons thrive in our climate if they are placed in the correct environment.

Rhododendrons need acidic soil. If a rhodo in a foundation planting around the house is not doing well it could be the lime that is leeching into the soil from the cement foundation and rubble fill left in the ground after building to raise the grade.

If you think this applies to your garden it is best to move any acid-loving plants to a more hospitable site and redesign your foundation planting to include plants for alkaline soil such as Arbutus Unedo, Ceanothus, Cotinus coggygria, Deutzia crenata, Osmanthus Burkwoodii, Syringa or Philadelphus to name a few.

Rhododendrons are not drought tolerant. They need to be watered throughout the summer and even winter if they do not receive rain water; however, they do not like soggy soil.

The root system is shallow so they do not like to buried very deep and they should be mulched lightly. Make sure that after a few years of mulching you have not added inches to the soil above the root ball.

If your rhodo is not blooming it could be that the roots are covered with too much soil. You can feed the plants with organic seed meal now and then again after blooming but do not feed in late summer or you just encourage too much tender growth before fall.

As with many flowering plants it is good to deadhead after blooming so the plant can put its energy into foliage growth but be careful not to disturb the new buds just below the spent flower heads.

Many varieties of Rhododendrons like the dappled shade provided by the woodland setting surrounded by other shrubs and trees but other varieties need more sun to bloom so make sure you have the right rhodo for your site.

I think it is important to follow the right plant, right place philosophy and these traditional favorites add beauty to our gardens and respond well to our changing climate but once you have had success in your garden it is easy to make the transition from weekend gardener to passionate plant lover. It is natural to want to expand your plant horizons and challenge your greenthumb with some unique or exotic plants.
The best way to successfully introduce a spark of the unusual is by introducing a different variety or hybrid of a species that is already thriving in your garden.

Plants within a species can vary by flower and foliage color, bloom time, scent, or leaf shape. They can be deciduous or evergreen, large or small, shade-loving or crave sun. Start with your favorite plant in your garden and introduce new varieties.

Many mail order nursery catalogues or websites such as www.forestfarm.com specialize in developing unique hybrids and are an excellent source of inspiration and assistance. There are 26 varieties of the ubiquitous Aster alone noted in the Forest Farm Nursery catalogue alone, for example.

If you want to expand your horticultural knowledge consider joining the Master Gardener program hosted by Washington State University Whatcom County Extension. Upon completion of the course each participant must annually complete a number of pre-determined volunteer hours in the horticultural field.

For more information about the Whatcom County Master Gardener program or to speak with a master gardener about a specific gardening question call the office at 360/676-6736 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon or 1 to 4 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended as space fills up fast.

If clearing a lot, there are a few preliminary tasks in the process that you can begin now which will help prepare the soil for those future plantings.

First you need to remove all unwanted vegetation. If you are starting with a field of brambles and weeds, know that it will take at least a full year to eliminate many of the weeds after the initial hacking, digging and pulling to clear the area.

Also, any weeds you can eliminate before planting will mean fewer weeds in your finished bed.

Solarization of the soil is probably the best method for killing weeds and the best way to achieve high enough temperatures to affect weeds and seeds is to cover an area with clear plastic during the summer.
Another method would be to cover the ground with some opaque material such as heavy black plastic, newspaper or carpet to eliminate light totally retarding photosynthesis.

Then there is always the more labor intensive program of methodically pulling the weeds as they appear. Whichever method you use it is well worth the extra time and effort to remove as many weeds as possible.
Your next step is to break up the ground enough to plant a cover crop such as red clover or better yet direct sow daikon radish seeds and leave the mature roots to rot in the ground. They will break up the soil and also increase its nutrient content.

After a year of this preliminary preparation your soil will be ready for the next step in the preparation of your new garden bed.