It’s March, but some garden needs can wait
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
Mar 14, 2012 | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
So many things to do in March. But on the other hand, you need to wait a couple of weeks to do some things.

One thing to do now is to cut off the spent flower stems from your spring bulbs and fertilize the plant with a 5-10-5 fertilizer. If you fed them when they were just coming up this spring, forget the fertilizer now. No matter how unsightly the leaves become, do not cut them back. They are feeding the bulbs now for blooms next spring.

There seems to be some confusion regarding the care of the beautiful Clematis vine. First, you need to cut the vine back to about two feet of the ground in March. That is only for those varieties which first bloom in July, Jackmani being one of those. This stimulates growth and makes them bushier. For those varieties which bloom first in spring and then again in fall, they need little pruning.

Most gardeners prune only the oldest stem on those. You can always prune out any dead stems. They like well drained, slightly acid, rich soil. Partial shade is fine for the vine and the roots must always be shaded, either by a box-like surround or by planting a couple of hostas beside them. Since their roots are so shallow, they need heavy mulch in winter.

A favorite of all the blooming shrubs is about to come into bloom. Some tips might make your azaleas more beautiful. First, their roots are shallow but wide so when digging their hole, keep that in mind. A shallow hole encourages them to grow out, not down. They will only thrive with acid fertilizer so if you grow them among other shrubs, fertilizing them can cause the azalea to get too much alkaline fertilizer.

Only use the fertilizer just for acid loving plants. Each year, you need to prune out the biggest branch to encourage shoots to come up inside the plant to make a full plant. Other than that one big branch, you can do a little pruning throughout the year to keep them in a nice shape.

Now about fertilizer: keep in mind that the three numbers on the bag of fertilizer are important. The middle number should be high for flowers and the first number is for nitrogen and you don’t want high nitrogen for anything in your yard that blooms, including all perennials, annuals and blooming shrubs.

A big tip is not to start digging around in your flower beds right now because little seedlings that came from your existing plants are going to be coming up shortly. I am always so excited to see what little gift is coming up in my flower beds. I almost hold my breath waiting for the nicotiana seedlings.

I first learned about the seeds dropping to the ground and coming up the next spring from Ma. She had two rock garden flower beds in front of the old porch, one on each side of the steps. Her mother-in-law had gathered pretty rocks to border the beds and had planted Sweet William Pinks many years ago and Ma was careful to keep those beds just as she had planted them.

That was the only flower I couldn’t pick. Ma would pick two or three early in spring for me and she let many of them go to seed and drop the seeds or she would scatter them herself. Then we waited each spring to see if they came up which they always did. That sweet smelling plant is still my favorite. The flowers were always variegated and you never knew what colors would come up.

Ma dearly loved her mother-in-law even though she had to live in the old Lewis home with her for many years. She had so many funny stories to tell me about Grandma Caroline. One concerned an old Silver Poplar tree which still stood near the front porch. Grandma Caroline hated that tree and wanted to have it cut down because it always had sprouts all over the front yard but her husband forbade it to be cut because his mother had planted it. She waited till he was working somewhere on the farm and she bored a hole in the tree all the way into the heart and filled the hole with salt.

Then she put some of the sawdust into the hole to hide her deed and waited for that tree to die. It lived on to outlive her and her husband and probably is still there if I could get into the old place but alas, the Corp of Engineers bulldozed the existing buildings and covered them up and now all that is left is trees and weeds and no sign of a road or path. If I could walk up that hill, I know I would find that “dratted” Silver Poplar tree which Grandma Caroline hated.

Three of Pa’s sisters also lived in the Lewis home and each of the women had their special domain. Grandma loved to tramp in the woods and gather her herbs and roots for medicine and she also looked for wild flowers and rocks. In those days, women wore dresses that went to the floor and Ma said the sister that was in charge of the laundry had a hard time keeping Grandma Caroline’s dresses clean.

One sister sewed all day long making clothes for all the family and Ma was the housekeeper because she was so good at that chore. Two of them did the cooking and they all pitched in for some chores. Ma said they all got along well and had a lot of fun. Wouldn’t you know that one of the sisters married a husband and brought him into the home to live and he was a big problem but that is for another day in the saga of Ma’s life.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with questions and/or suggestions.
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