Roll over in the deep dark bed, stretch and yawn, rub your sleepy eyes and poke your first little buds up out of the earth. Spring is here, the varied thrush is calling, and it’s time to rise and shine. The sprouts of the pom pom primroses (Primula denticulata) are always surprising, the way the flowers come up first, pushing the accumulated litter from fall’s last burst of growth and nudging and butting their way into the light. The peony’s new sprouts are bright red, like eager fingers scraping their way up, along with the intricately-frilled delphiniums and the already spreading daylily stems. It’s all beginning again, and we have a part to play too.
Our first job is to pull away the decaying leaves, scratch around a little to open the soil and greet our returning friends with a welcome cup of Spring Tonic. We use composted chicken manure, a little lime, and for the really hungry, a sprinkle of triple 16. Remember, primroses don’t like commercial fertilizer, and if any gets on the tender young leaves, be sure to wash it off.
Flowering bulbs are springing up from the dirt. They are only able to use nutrients right now, before they flower, so give them a nice meal. Not too much, they’re not greedy, but if you want them to flourish and multiply, now is their feeding time. Bulb flowers are so delightful and so short-lived, it’s often difficult to remember exactly where they were planted when the leaves have dried up and vanished. A cellphone photo is great for reminding oneself not to dig that area up when looking for a place to plant the new acquisition.
April is our driest month, and as glad to see the blue sky as we are, be sure the shrubs and trees that were planted in the last couple of years get a nice drink. They’re not yet really established into their new sites, the tiny root hairs that will absorb the water and nutrients are still growing into the surrounding soil. The root ball that went into the ground last summer is still not integrated into the local water system, so set the hose to trickle and lay it at the base of that big expensive rhododendron for a few hours.
Lawns are coming back to life too, and our annual spring job list always includes a nice massage for rejuvenating the old turf. Spray moss killer all over it, be careful not to get any on your concrete sidewalk, and let it sit for a day or two, then thatch out the blackened moss, old dead grass, and any accumulated thatch that has built up under the top layer. The amount of debris pulled out of a lawn is amazing, and the lawn looks like it’s been really thrashed, but given a dose of lime and fertilizer, and a little judicious reseeding where it needs it, and the grass will rebound quickly.
We often fill our little work truck to the top with debris from a lawn, and a month later the rejuvenated turf looks like a million dollars.
Spring pruning of shrubs and trees is much easier now that the new buds are swelling and the winter damage can be assessed. Things that bloom on the branches that grow this time of year, like roses, spiraeas, and hydrangeas, can be pruned now. Plants that bloom on the branches that grew last year, like lilacs rhododendrons, and azaleas should be pruned after they bloom, otherwise the flower buds will all be cut off.
Quick growing shrubs like spiraeas, potentillas, and viburnums can be trimmed back vigorously; they will more than makeup for it this summer, but lilacs, roses, and daphnes don’t need pruning unless they’re growing into the walkways or shading out something else that has greater importance.
Flowering trees are getting ready too, crabapples, serviceberries, flowering cherries, and all the other types of lilacs are budding up, some even show color already, and they will burst into flower very soon.
If you don’t know what your shrubs or trees are, send us a picture and we can usually ID it for you. They’re like old friends; we could pick them out anywhere.
• David Lendrum, with Margaret Tharp, has operated local landscaping business Landscape Alaska for 30 years. He’s Southeast Alaska’s best-known horticulturalist, and can be reached at email@example.com.