Pruning and Seeding in Early Spring

The word April comes from the Latin word “aperire” meaning “opening.” Since the long-awaited spring is here, why not take the time to enjoy the fresh colors, scents and sounds of the season?

If there is still a little snow in your gardens don't despair. Some plants benefit from having their seeds begun in the cold. Many gardeners are hesitant to seed in early spring, but seeds can be sprinkled on top of melting snow where they are given a short cold spell, then gradually sink into the earth as the snow melts away. Some of these seeds could have been sown last autumn. The seeds would have laid dormant all winter and then begun to grow in the spring.

Early spring sowing has an advantage over direct sowing later in the season. The seeds you sow now receive the same treatment from nature as weed seeds. This gives both the emerging seedlings and gardeners an advantage. Here's the trick. Plant the seeds in a pattern. You will recognize the plants as they emerge. Also, later in the season, when gardeners prepare soil for planting seeds, they disturb the earth and often bring up competing weed seeds. Direct-sown seeds are usually planted in freshly tilled soil which may not be weed-free and can be easily discovered by the birds. When seeding on unprepared soil, the seeds fall into tiny crevasses where they are protected from being washed away or being discovered by wildlife.

A reader asked about casting wild-flowers in early April. I know that many gardening sources suggest planting wild-flower seeds early or even on top of melting snow. Here in Western New York I've had varying success. I think that wildflowers native to Western New York do better if fall planted. They need several months of stratification, a cold period necessary to insure seed germination later. If you purchase a true wildflower mix of unidentified seeds, it may be interesting to cast them now and await the results. I was given such a mix years ago and I broadcast the seeds in early spring. Many plants emerged and I could not easily recognize most of them. After lots of research I found that the mix was actually of garden plants commonly grown in California and not true wildflowers at all. The only plants that survived into subsequent years were the Echinacea, purple cone flower. This was a great learning experience!

While outside during this first full month of spring you are probably considering when to prune back your roses or lavender. Almost everyone recognizes the golden glow of the forsythia. When it blooms, I go right out — pruners in hand. I hope you didn't prune your lavender back last autumn. Here in Western New York this invites lavender death. The lavender often puts out new growth — especially during a warm autumn or early winter day — only to have this growth killed back, often too far for the plant to recover. Take a look at each lavender plant while noting its overall shape. If you are unsure as to the liveliness of the plant, make a small cut into it until you see green tissue. This is live tissue. I cut my lavender far back in the spring as the plants are getting older and the centers woody. The plants look rather ugly for a few weeks but soon make up for it with renewed vigor and many flowers.

Now for the roses. I think that the most important rule for pruning is to prune with purpose. What are you trying to accomplish? First prune back branches that are broken and those that cross into each other. Try to open up the center of the plant. This leads to good aeration and a better looking bush. Always cut back to about one-quarter to one-half inch above an outward facing bud. Soon you will be rewarded for all this work. I love to hear from you.

Forever Young Magazine - Spring 2007