Spring brings favorites – azaleas and clematis
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Mar 13, 2013 | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of spring’s most favorite blooming shrubs is about to make a debut, the beautiful azalea. Many times we buy one and are disappointed when it fails to live up to our expectations. Azaleas should be planted carefully and here are some tips you might need to know. First, the roots are quite shallow but wide, so when digging a hole, you need a wide, shallow hole to encourage roots to grow out, not down. They need rich soil so you can’t plant them in red clay and expect good results. You may need to mix some compost and rotted manure in that hole. They also need to grow in dappled shade. I have never seen one grow and thrive in full sun. They need acid soil so be sure to buy special fertilizer just for acid loving plants. Each year, prune out the biggest branch to encourage shoots to come up inside the plant to make a full shrub. You might also do just a little pruning throughout the year to keep your plant in a nice shape. One last tip is not to plant them next to a plant that requires alkaline fertilizer. It won’t work.

Another spring bloomer that is always popular is the lovely clematis. They come in many beautiful colors but my favorite has always been the Jackmani with its strong color. This plant also needs rich, slightly acid soil. It must also be well-drained soil. They need shaded roots and partial shade is all right for the vine. It is absolutely essential to shade the clematis roots. They need mulch and very thick mulch for winter. I like to plant two or three hostas beside a clematis for shade. Some growers use a box, 8 or 10 inches tall, all around the clematis for shade. I have also put bricks all around them. The roots are very shallow and must have that shade. As for pruning, those varieties that first bloom in July, such as the Jackmani, can be pruned to about 2 feet in March. That stimulates new growth. After planting any clematis, wait for one or two years to prune. As for the varieties that bloom first in spring, and again in fall, little pruning must be done. You can always prune out any dead stems and you will soon know which are putting out little leaf buds. It goes without saying that these two old favorites need to be kept moist because of their shallow roots.

When buying fertilizer, as you probably will do early in spring, keep in mind that the three numbers on the bag are very 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 perennials, annuals and blooming shrubs. The best advice for any gardener is to buy from a good nursery and ask questions. If the first person you ask is too busy, ask for the manager. I assure you the manager won’t be too busy to talk to a customer.

Remember when you’re planning a flowerbed that the closer you plant the perennials (or annuals), the less soil will show and the fewer weeds you will have.

Another big, big tip: don’t start digging about in your flowerbeds just yet. Some of the little seedlings may start coming up when the soil warms up. I have found that clematis and larkspur often throw their seeds all over the beds and I just always let them stay where they came up. It always brightens the flower beds and covers many bald spots.

When I was very small and followed Ma around her back kitchen garden where she had most of her flowers, she wasn’t quite so careful where she worked during early March. She weeded every fencerow and all around the back porch. As soon as it got a little bit warm in March, she would keep an eye out for copperhead snakes. At that age, I knew little about snakes but always followed Ma. I can still hear her say, “Mind where you step, Honey”. In the other back yard, on the other side of the kitchen toward the stable, Pa kept two king snakes under an old sled and they were there to keep the copperheads out of the corncrib so we didn’t have to worry about any other snakes. I remember so well when he brought those two big king snakes to the house and put them under the sled between the house and the stable. Ma hated them but strangely, they didn’t come near the house. Looking back after all those years have passed, I wonder that no person was bitten by snakes since there were so many. Pa told me that once, every farmer in the community let their hogs range through the big woods and they kept snakes killed. Also there were usually a few hunting dogs that kept them away from the house and yard. I wonder how many folks have seen a big fat rattlesnake slither up on their front steps. Ma and I were sitting in the old swing on the front porch when she saw it and she said, “Oh, Mercy, Honey, go ring the dinner bell”, which was a signal to Pa to come running. Ma didn’t ever try to dispatch a venomous snake and neither would I have.

Thanks for your phone calls. You can always reach me at 270-522-3632. For a copy of my book, send $13.50 to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz. KY 42211.
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