Thomas Mickey: Getting the garden ready for summer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thomas Mickey

The past winter of freezing temperatures lingered for months. We thought the snow would never end, but it did. Now, here we are in the height of spring.

The garden needs us with an intensity rarely seen before because the past winter ruled for so long. Now, it’s time to ready the garden for summer.  The preparation you make now will help you enjoy the garden later.

The first step is to clean up the lawn and the beds. Take out the rake and make sure the leaves are off the lawn and the perennial beds, and make sure they don’t cover the area where you will soon plant annuals. Pick up any tree limbs that landed on the lawn, driveway or walkways.

Pruning often contributes to a healthier tree or shrub, but each plant has its pruning time. A rhododendron or azalea, which are shrubs that bloom in the spring, need pruning in mid-summer after their flowers have gone. But not now.

Dead limbs of trees and shrubs need to be cut so that the plant will enjoy more vigor. Since such limbs only burden the plant, cutting them off helps the plant as the growing season progresses.

Every garden demands a clematis, that marvel among perennial vines. The clematis presents a situation, however, in which a gardener needs to know the plant variety.

Certain clematis vines, like viticella, you must prune quite heavily in the spring. The viticella variety I have is clematis Duchess of Albany, which features rosy bell-shaped flowers beginning in July.

Until it flowers, the plant just travels up the lamppost. Once the flowers come, they last into the fall. I prune this clematis now to about 12 inches from the ground. Since the lamppost stands in full sun, I can already see the new growth.

Perennial beds need attention, as well. Clear away any dead stems or leaves from plants, such as daylilies and hostas. Once you can see the new growth, you want the soil around the plant free of any remnants of last year.

Ornamental grasses provide vertical color to the landscape. They need to be cut to the ground now to highlight the new growth. Deposit the old, dried grass remnants in your compost bin.

In May, once the weather is consistently warm and you can feel the soil is dry and not soggy, you can divide perennials if they have become too large. Be sure to plant them right away, or pot them to give to a neighbor or sell at a plant sale.

The compost pile needs to be cleared of any winter twigs. This is where you will deposit cuttings and raked material to decompose and recycle later into the garden.

It may seem like a lot of work to ready the garden, but once the warm weather comes in June, you’ll know you set your garden on a  path to provide the color and structure that makes it so special.

Just step back in late June, and compliment yourself on the work you did to ready the garden.

Thomas Mickey is a master gardener from Quincy, Mass., and a professor at Bridgewater State  University. Reach him at  www.americangardening.net.