Spring pruning begins

Inspired by clear blue skies and a forecast of 61F, I grabbed the chance to get out in the garden for two hours this morning. I’m determined not to pay for it in stress later in the afternoon. Slowing down is important.

What I’ve been calling the blue slope garden is what I see when I approach my house from the street. It faces west and south, and is terribly hot and dry in the summer. It is backed by a medium-sized Magnolia grandiflora that could do with a bit of perking up, but that’s a post for another day. Because it’s so highly visible, naturally I want this garden to look good. I gathered soil samples for a much-needed soil test, and by the time I get the report it will probably be warm enough to start fertilizing.

I raked out all the fallen leaves (note to self: do this much earlier next year, as some of the plants you’re growing want excellent winter drainage, which is not exactly what mounds of wet leaves provide!) and cut back the Leymus ‘Blue Dune,’ the Perovskia atriplicifolia, and the straggly bits of Santolina that suffered from being smothered last summer by a particularly vigorous Ipomoea batatas. I trimmed back the Ruta graveolens, which is starting to show new growth. Mine tends to get rather leggy, but perhaps my soil test will guide me to better cultivation this year.

I have been reading about how to prune effectively for best displays of foliage, flowers, or fruit. According to Lee Reich, Callicarpa is one of the shrubs that benefits from pruning hard to the ground each spring. It blooms on new wood, the wood that grows in the current season, so cutting it back hard should produce very vigorous and lush new growth and loads of flowers and electric-purple berries in the fall.

I hope. Putting my faith in Mr. Reich, I took a deep breath and whacked my Callicarpas to the ground. I will be watching anxiously this spring to see whether my faith was properly invested. If not, I’ll have a ghastly hole in my planting and my nose will be firmly out of joint.

callicarpa before 2

Callicarpa ‘Issei’ before…

callicarpa after 2

Callicarpa ‘Issei’ after the whack. I need to clean up the cuts; a few are ragged. To do: sharpen my pruners!

Rain delay

This morning, it’s finally raining. We’ve been without rain for some weeks; officially, we’re in a moderate drought. It’s nice to see the rain barrels filling back up.

Rain days are the only thing that slow me down. I’ve noticed that when I feel like my plate is overfull with responsibilities and to-do items, I tend to flee to the nearest garden center for retail-horticultural therapy. I cannot promise myself to only get one item. While I never spend so much as to get into debt, I do from time to time feel a bit guilty about indulging in plant shopping when I could be alleviating my stress by actually turning to the work to be done and getting cracking.

There are three areas of the garden that are under active development. One of them is the front slope near the driveway, a barren plot about 20′ x 20′ devoid of organic matter, nutrition, drainage, or anything else. Except for the orange double daylilies which are strikingly similar to those planted along interstate highways around here. There’s a reason why those are the flower of choice.

blue slope

I am referring to this spot in my mind as the “blue slope” because I’m renovating the area in a blue palette, with touches of red-violet for punch. It gets western sun and is about as far from a water source as it’s possible to be, so I must force myself to refrain from planting the David Austin rose ‘Tradescant’ there….we’ll see how I hold out.

Last fall, I excavated the top four or five inches of soil from the northeast quadrant of the plot, and disposed of it because it Liriope spicata was running rampant through it. The only way to be rid of it is to dig it out entirely, and then be prepared to do spot removal for the rest of one’s life. They emerge from little white bubble like tubers, and creep via rhizomes throughout the toughest, driest, most obstinate soil. The smallest one seems to be able to repopulate a garden in short order.

I brought in a load of grit to improve drainage, and several yards of composted horse manure and tilled it in. Still awaiting the results of the soil test. If I were good, I would do the soil test first, and then plant after I had tilled in the necessary lime and so forth. But I’m not. I cannot wait to plant, so I do the necessary soil drainage and improvement work and wait for the test results later. I planted three Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ and five Eleymus something or other (still looking for that tag, you see). Mulched with a decent pine bark mulch and dug in about two cups of lime per plant. I assure you, that’s only a start. They seem to be doing very well. Also planted four Ruta graveolens from 2-inch cell packs. They may or may not be ‘Jackson’s Blue;’ I am not sure about that. They seem to be struggling along for the moment, but I expect they’ll take off well enough in April. Maybe by then the soil test results will be back.

Also planted about forty Allium azureum and half a dozen Allium ‘Globemaster.’ The Globemasters are already pushing up through the mulch, but I’m not seeing the azureums yet.

I managed to leave well enough alone through the winter, as we were finishing up a kitchen renovation and we had the holidays to deal with.

Then last Thursday, in a fit of delight over 75 degree weather in February, I fled to the plant store in search of Sambucus ‘Black Lace.’ Didn’t find it, but did find two Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai,’ two Salvia guaranitica, and three Santolina chamaecyparissus, which are happily installed. Actually, the santolinas are in a temporary spot, as I really can’t carry on with the development of the front slope until I get some large rocks installed. (My husband is thrilled.) I am looking forward to fall, when the Callicarpas will display their metallic violet fruit. I hope it resists the birds long enough for me to appreciate it.

Salvia 'Argentine Skies'

I am guilty of wandering off to the next project when the last is only 75% complete. If I have a New Year’s resolution, it’s to finish what I start. Now that I have declared it so, you may gently hold me to it.

I’ll let you in on the other areas under development in my next post. I must turn to the other things on the to-do list, like the 20 people coming over for brunch in the morning.