By Steve Smith
Sometimes I feel like the world is spinning out of control. There is all the fear over the coronavirus, the political turmoil, climate change, the stock market and just general angst over making the mortgage or paying for health care.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, spend more time in the garden. The sunshine will do you good, working in the dirt will help you build up immunities, fresh air will clear your lungs, and communing with nature will clear your mind. Here are some things you can do while decompressing ;
•March is a key month for pruning. Deciduous shrubs that bloom in summer, like butterfly bush, spiraea, potentilla and hypericum, can be hacked back hard. That goes for red twig dogwoods. Hard pruning stimulates new growth. Early spring bloomers, like forsythia and quince, should be pruned after they finish
blooming, so hold off for now.
•Roses will require some serious attention if you want spectacular blooms this summer. Prune them down to knee high (except climbers of course), clean around them, apply a generous application of organic fertilizer (2 cups per bush isn’t too much), and cover the soil with compost. An application of dormant oil and copper will help control future insect and disease problems. If you still have any of last year’s leaves on the bush, remove them.
•Hydrangeas are always confusing for gardeners. PG type hydrangeas can be cut back “hard” since they bloom on new wood. “Mop head” and “Lace leaf” varieties should be cut just below last year’s blooms, same for Oakleaf and climbing varieties. It gets complicated, so don’t hesitate to ask a horticultural professional. Bringing pictures into the garden center is always helpful when it comes to explaining things.
•Fruit trees should be pruned now, even if they are starting to push flower buds. If you act fast there is still time to apply a dormant spray of copper and oil, but always avoid any insecticides (natural or synthetic) when trees are in full bloom. March is the last month to purchase bareroot fruit trees. Starting in April, they will generally cost you up to 40% more. By planting this month, you can save dollars, get a better selection, and benefit
from not having to lug around a 40-pound pot of soil. As a bonus, bareroot plants will often establish faster.
•Weeding is critical this month. Get those weeds out before they go to seed and you will have fewer to contend with this fall. You can “skin-off”
annual weeds with a Hula Hoe in minutes, then follow up with a layer of compost and be done for the season. Perennial weeds will need their roots removed as well, which is a little more work. Products like Preen, Casaron and Corn Gluten help keep future weed seeds from germinating, but be sure to read the label – they can also damage desirable plants if used in the wrong places.
•Cool season veggies should be planted this month. After you have worked your soil with fresh compost, fertilizer and lime, head to the garden center for starts of potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, and seeds of carrots and radishes. In other words, root crops. You can also plant leaf crops and peas now, either from seed or transplants. Wait on tomatoes, peppers, beans and basil until the soil and air is warmer, usually in May.
There are tons of documented health benefits from gardening: the exercise is good for us, sunshine is full of vitamin D, the visual and culinary rewards improve our physical and mental health, the list goes on. These next few months will be stressful; we all need to pull together and take care of each other, but we also need to take care of ourselves, and spending time in the garden may just be the best medicine out there.
Steve Smith owns Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. – Sunnyside will host two free classes next weekend. “Summer Blooming Bulbs” March 14 and 10 a.m. and “Dazzling Dahlias” March 15 at 11 a.m.