February 2013

Practice tough love on early emerging spring bulbs


Daffodils and other spring bulbs that emerge early usually don't need any special care. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

With Indiana’s cold-one-day hot-the-next weather, many spring blooming bulbs have broken ground early.

Bulbs planted close to sidewalks, driveways and foundations likely are already up several inches. The ground around these bulbs stays a bit warmer than soil in garden beds because the adjacent hardscape absorbs and retains heat.

Bulbs buried under leaves in a sunny location also may be emerging from the ground because the debris keeps the soil bit warmer.

Many gardeners worry about these early risers and wonder if they should do anything to protect them. Fortunately, you don’t have to do anything.

It’s possible the leaves may be a bit damaged by a severe cold snap, but the flowers are still tucked under ground.

Once the flowers emerge and there’s below freezing temperature scare, you can cover the buds with cloth or paper. If you use plastic, be sure to tent it so that it does not touch the plants.

Personally, I practice tough love and don’t cover anything.

Spring pruning

Between now and mid-March is a good time to prune trees and shrubs, if needed. Do not prune spring-blooming shrubs now. Rather, wait until after they bloom.

Some shrubs benefit from a severe pruning every spring, whacking them back to just a few inches above the base of the plant. Cutting back these shrubs results in strong new growth, tidy plants and lots of flowers.

  • Japanese spirea (Spiraea x brumalda, S. japonica).
  • ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle Spirit, Bella Anna and other smooth-leaf hydrangeas (H. arborescens).
  • Endless Summer, Cityline, Forever and Ever and other reblooming hydrangeas (H. macrophylla). Other big leaf hydrangeas should not be cut back in spring, but rather in summer, shortly after they bloom.
  • Russian sage (Perovskia).
  • Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris).
  • Knock Out and other shrub roses (Rosa rugosa).
  • Butterfly bush (Buddleia).
  • Red- and yellow-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea). The best color comes from new branches.
  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa).