This spring has been one of the most beautiful seasons I can recall.
We’ve had mild weather, regular rainfall, and no damaging late frosts.
We’ve all been home more than usual and spending more time outside, which has given me the opportunity to watch my landscape unfurl. It’s been a beautiful show.
Over the past few weeks, waves of color have graced my yard and neighborhood, starting with camellias and a long daffodil show from February into March.
They were followed by azaleas, forsythia, spirea, dogwood and viburnum. And although we’re still in the middle of spring, it’s time to start thinking about pruning spring blooming shrubs and tidying up spent bulbs.
Ready to prune?
First, let’s talk about pruning spring flowering shrubs. These include the shrubs I mentioned previously (azalea, forsythia, spirea, viburnum and camellia), as well as deutzia, lilac, weigela, quince, fothergilla, rhododendron and ninebark. Once they’ve finished flowering and are starting to put on new green growth, it’s time to prune.
It’s important to prune spring flowering shrubs right after they bloom, because they will develop flower buds during the summer. These buds will produce flowers the following spring. So if you wait too long to prune, you’ll cut off next year’s buds. There is a generous window for pruning, though, so don’t feel that you have to rush to get them all done. Just don’t wait too long, as you want to prune before mid-June.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to prune spring flowering shrubs. Many shrubs are beautiful when allowed to grow into their natural form. Forsythia is exceptionally handsome when ‘let go,’ as it creates a dramatic show spring and fall. The main reason we prune, is to keep shrubs at a manageable size, especially foundation plantings.
When you prune, prune with a purpose. Know what you want your shrub to look like when you’re done, and how it will grow after you prune. Pruning is very similar to getting a haircut. Sometimes we want a sheared, tidy shape, but sometimes we can just take a little off the top. I shear my foundation azaleas to a certain height each spring, but just tip prune rhododendron and viburnum.
Sometimes it’s necessary to hard prune shrubs, especially when an old plant has become way too big for a certain area. If that shrub is a spring bloomer, then definitely make sure you prune it right after it blooms. This will ensure that the shrub will have the longest time possible to rejuvenate during the upcoming summer and fall growing seasons. Make sure to eliminate any dead wood during the process.
Of course, make sure you have the proper tools to prune. Garden shears are a must, as they make quick work out of a large shrub. Electric, battery or gas hedge shears are handy, too. I find that a shrub rake is very useful when I prune, as it allows me to pull trimmings off the top of tall shrubs and gather trimmings from underneath. A shrub rake has the same length handle as a normal rake, but just a smaller head.
What to do about bulbs?
So what about all those bulbs that have bloomed out? As a general rule, you never want to remove a bulb’s foliage once it’s bloomed. As the foliage withers, it’s putting energy into the bulb, which will make for more blooms and strength the following year. This explains why large swaths of naturalized daffodils are so happy, healthy and have abundant blooms. When they’re in a wooded or natural area that isn’t groomed, mowed or maintained, their spent foliage is always feeding their roots.
Although it can be unsightly, try to leave the foliage of crocus, daffodils (narcissus), and hyacinths. Kick some mulch over them, or plant something close by that starts to bloom as early bloomers have waned. One great example of this type of succession planting includes crocus followed by daffodils, dutch iris, lilies and dahlias. Each bulb is coming into bloom as the other is finishing.
Tulips are an exception to the rule when it comes to bulbs. Most tulips are considered an annual in our area, as our climate just doesn’t allow for the chill period they need to reliably bloom year to year. If you’re keen on having tulip blooms every year, make sure to chose older varieties that are better at naturalizing and more likely to be a true perennial. Or, just replant every year with showy hybrid colors.
If you have spent tulip blooms in your garden, try pruning off the seed head and allowing the foliage to die back naturally. This will give you the best chance of a repeat bloom next spring. Many gardeners treat tulips as an annual, though, and pluck out the bulbs after they’ve bloomed.
I’ve had a fantastic time in the garden this spring. Watching my landscape wake up and unfold has been a great source of joy amidst a blitz of uncertainty. I feel like pruning spring blooming shrubs is the first real garden chore I’ve been faced with this season. But that’s okay — as long as it keeps me in the garden, I’ll take it.