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BREAKING GROUND: Signs of life returning to some winter-damaged plants — it's time for pruning, weeding and planning

by Janet B. Carson April 1, 2023 at 1:31 a.m.
There's time to plant lettuce and potatoes, but don't add tomatoes and peppers until mid- to late April. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)


All of our plants are thriving and blooming again.

April Fool's!

Sorry, we need a laugh these days when it comes to our gardens. But truthfully, in spite of the pervasive winter damage, we are seeing life coming back to many brown plants. I have been encouraged by buds on camellias, gardenias and loropetalum, and I love seeing blooms on azaleas and spirea.

But not all plants are going to recover. It is hard to be patient and wait to find out whether yours will, but that is still the common refrain. Give plants a chance to grow before removing them or cutting them too severely.

◼️ Some plants can be pruned now. Big leaf hydrangeas can be cut back — while I have seen a few plants with leaves growing on old wood, most are sprouting from the base, so cut out the old, dead canes to make room for new growth.

◼️ Cut back any roses that you haven't pruned. Roses bloom on new growth and so do require annual pruning.

◼️ Let spring-blooming plants have a chance to bloom before pruning.

◼️ Any plants that you grow for foliage only (hollies, boxwood, etc.) that were too large to begin with and need pruning, go ahead and prune now. Aucubas look pretty sad too, so do some thinning cuts of some of the older, woodier stems at the soil line to encourage prettier new growth.

◼️ But hold off on gardenias, camellias and tea olives (Osmanthus). Let's see what happens.

◼️ Groundcovers may need some freshening up. Be a bit judicious in your cutting so you don't have cut edges on new growth; but you don't want all that dead foliage taking away from the beauty of the new growth.

◼️ Ornamental grasses also need to have the old foliage removed. Pull back the old leaves and see how tall the new growth is before you start cutting.

◼️ Cool-season vegetables have taken off and are growing well. There is still time to plant more cool-season crops, like lettuce, broccoli and potatoes, but get them planted soon. By mid- to late April, we can plant tomatoes, peppers, beans and other warm-season crops. If you plant too early you may have to replant, or deal with covering plants on chilly nights.

◼️ As predicted, winter-damaged pansies have finally recovered and are blooming again — just in time to be taken out to make way for summer color. But take your time planting summer annuals. Let the soil warm up so they can thrive. Geraniums, petunias and calibrachoa plants will survive some cool nights and so can be planted now.

◼️ Tropical flowering plants are hitting garden centers, but do protect them from cool nights. They are tropical plants and don't really like temperatures much below 50.

◼️ Just as you need to wait to plant warm-season vegetables and annuals, you need to wait to move houseplants outside until late April or early May. Many gardeners could use their indoor plants as extra fill in the landscape this summer while their outside plants recover, but don't be too hasty. They have been protected and sheltered inside all winter and a few more weeks of waiting won't hurt. Gradually expose your plants to sunlight so you don't burn the foliage.

◼️ Lawns are slowly greening up, but winter weeds are really growing. We don't want to slow down the green-up, so mow the winter weeds to prevent seed set. Once your lawn is totally green with grass and not just weeds, fertilize with a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer.


If you are doing some replanting in the garden, consider your options. You don't have to replant with the same thing you already have or had. Diversity in the garden is a good thing and makes your garden more interesting. Consider mature height of the plants you choose, find out whether they need sun or shade — find out whichever you have — and check the soil drainage.

We have had a lot of rain and some plants could be swimming if the area isn't well-drained. If drainage is a problem, consider raised beds or mounding up the planting site.

Our gardens are definitely going to be in transition this year. Water when dry and apply a light application of fertilizer to help them rebound. Don't get carried away with too much fertilizer or you will do more harm than good.

Janet Carson's blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.


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