And speaking of those lovely spring flowering shrubs, the japonicas, wiegelia, bridal wreath and most of all, the gorgeous old fashioned lilac need some clarification as to pruning. It is a big disappointment to me and other gardeners to see those plants pruned, as if they were boxwoods. They can never attain their potential if they are incorrectly pruned. So here is the way to prune them: first, after they are a few years old and beginning to have fewer blooms, take out one third of the oldest stems with a tiny saw, down to the ground. Do this every year and after three years, you have a healthy three-year-old plant. The second thing is to always keep the suckers trimmed to the ground. They, as their name implies, take the strength away from the mother plant. Unless the oldest stems are cut out, eventually the blooms get fewer and smaller.
When these shrubs are in bloom, it is very good for them to cut big armfuls of them for the house. So Ma did a good thing when she cut so many branches of flowers to take to the little cemetery behind the house.
It is good for the plant to have the faded and dead blooms cut off, also. But it is heart breaking to me to see someone take the hedge trimmers and shape up those lovely plants.
According to the folklore, it is about time, the middle of May, to set out the tender bedding plants. We could still have a sudden cold spell but it is unlikely. It is time, in fact, to sow seeds of those tender annuals, such as petunias, torenia, gomphrena, amaranth and portulaca.
There is a little trick to planting those flats of annuals and here it is: dig a hole for each little seedling and fill it with water and place some Osmacote in each hole. Now, dip the whole flat in a bucket of water for just a minute. When you take out each seedling to plant, with your fingers spread out the roots, which will be all twisted. Now this is a big tip: after placing each little seedling in its hole, fill in that hole with DRY soil. Now there won’t be any moisture for the sun to bake or steam. Cover each plant with newspaper for a few days to harden them and they are off to a good start.
When these little seedlings get to about six inches, remove the central bud of each plant to insure stocky growth. Ageratum, calendulas, snapdragons, stocks, marigolds, alyssum and petunias need such treatment. Some plants better left alone are poppies, asters and nicotiana.
I can’t stress enough the importance of staking some of the taller perennials. This month, while the tall garden phlox, larkspur, hollyhocks and foxglove are just a few inches tall, staking them is easy and they benefit so much by staking now. This is also true of dahlias and gladioli. Whether you use bamboo or wooden stakes, tie them to the plant with raffia or coarse green cord which you can buy at any garden store.
This is the time of year that I think Ma loved best. In my earliest memory, I can remember going with her to the creek bank down through one field to pick “poke sallet” to go with her turnip greens, which she cooked in a big iron kettle on the old kitchen stove.
I remember seeing all kinds of wild flowers along the creek bank along with wild fern. We always took some home with us.
However, the most beautiful wild flowers grew on the wooded hillside behind the old house. I might add also that is where the copperheads roamed so we had to be very careful where we stepped. The wildflowers that she loved were the rare larkspur, Indian paintbrush, bluebell, sweet William and May apple.
After we moved from the farm, I had little opportunity to go with Ma to hunt wildflowers but the memory lingers on through the years. What I remember most is how she could make a fun trip out of any little adventure and that she gave me her time.
Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 with your questions and comments. I have enjoyed the calls from friends from long ago and from readers whom I have not met.