Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Spring is here! Officially it was March 20th, but I knew it was spring as soon as I saw the daffodils emerge. The hellebores have been glorious this year, but as their late-winter flowers slowly fade, new colors appear in the garden. The red stems of the peonies have started to peek out after being dormant all winter, the early magnolias are blooming, and the sweet fragrance of daphne lets my family know that spring has begun.

This is a wonderful time of year in the garden, with lots to do but so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are many tasks required, but most of those tasks are not burdensome. Instead, they are rather enjoyable because as gardeners, we are getting ready for a new growing season with lots of promises in store.

Refreshing Garden Containers

By refreshing the potting soil in your spring and summer containers, you will find that they perform much better!

One of my early tasks is to freshen up my many containers, of which I have 100+ scattered throughout the garden. It is a chore, no question about that, but I always like to add new potting mix to containers as needed. In some of the large pots, instead of removing all of the older potting mix, I take out about half and add new and mix the two together. In most of the smaller pots, if the mix has not been changed for a couple of years, I empty the old and add new. With the old mix, I use it around established trees and shrubs in the garden as a mulch.

My planting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Last year, we had some extremely hot days, and it was difficult to keep pots adequately watered. This year, I am going to add some Black Gold Just Coir to the mix because it should help with moisture retention when temperatures are high.

Click here for more spring-container reading:

Prune Early Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Prune spring-flowering shrubs, like this Viburnum, just after they flower to keep from removing next year’s flower buds.

As some of the early-blooming flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, finish their blooming period, it is a good time to do some pruning if necessary. Remove any branches that tend to be older and weaker because this pruning will encourage new growth that will then bloom next year.

This has been a superb spring for Camellias, and I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many plants with so many flowers. As the flowers fade, they should be removed. Often plants grow much larger than we had intended when they were planted, and I think Camellias are a good example. After they bloom, it is an excellent time to do any necessary pruning.

Click here for more information about spring-bloomers:

Get Spring and Summer Vegetables Started

Now’s the time to plant spring herbs and vegetables, such as this dill, lettuce, and cilantro.

While it is too early to set out tomato plants and other summer vegetables, there are many cool-season vegetables that can be planted now. Vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted now, and garden centers should have a good selection available. Tomato seeds can be started indoors, and the plants will then be ready to set outside in late May or early June. Peas can be sown outdoors, both edible peas and flowering sweet peas. Sweet pea seeds have a very hard coating, and I have found that soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water prior to planting, will speed up germination. (Click here to discover more seeds that appreciate soaking.)

Here are some more resources about planting vegetables in the spring:

Prune Roses

If you failed to prune your roses earlier in the season, there is still time.

Roses should have been pruned in late winter or earliest spring, but if not, it is better to do it now rather than not at all. Your flowers will probably appear later, but the bushes will be more compact, and the flowers will be within reach.

Click here for more rose pruning and selecting resources:

Don’t let the many tasks of the spring garden overwhelm you. A garden is meant to be enjoyed and to be a place of peace and tranquility. Take the time to enjoy it, most plants are resilient and can stand some neglect. The garden never has to be perfect. It is a growing entity that is constantly changing. Enjoy the changes with it.

Click here to see my Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden from previous years. Happy spring!!!

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Here we are in January at the start of the New Year. Now is always an exciting time in the garden to be thinking of what new plants to add, what plants to remove or move, what container gardens to create, and what new garden art to add. A garden is ever-changing and never stays quite the same even though we, as gardeners, might not have made any changes. Nature makes its own decisions. When I look at pictures of my garden during the cold winter months, sometimes I am astonished at the differences that I see each year. Visualizing my gardens in years past also helps me determine what needs to be done–from now through to spring–to make them flourish.

Feed Wild Birds

One of the first garden tasks that I recommend is to feed the birds. So many of their natural habitats have been destroyed. I believe that we as gardeners can offer them a haven that is safe and supplied with food and water. More and more gardeners are also buying more plants that provide a natural source of food and shelter for not only birds but insects as well. (Click here to learn more about feeding birds naturally.) Many garden centers now create displays of wildlife plants, so their customers can be informed and plant landscapes specimens for wildlife. Still, without such plants, well-stocked bird feeders can provide nourishment for the birds and pleasure to the gardener. (Have your bird ID book on hand and mark off the different types for winter fun.)

Control Slugs Early

Removing slug eggs early can help save lots of plant damage and frustration.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, where I garden, we have, thus far, had a very mild winter. In my own garden, we have yet to have a real killing frost. If the weather continues like this it will probably mean that we’ll have a proliferation of slugs in the spring. To reduce slug populations, check your garden for slug eggs. Look under any boards, nursery containers, and other debris and destroy the small, round, translucent eggs on sight. It is much easier to control them now rather than waiting until the growing season.

Grow Primroses Indoors and Outdoors

Polyanthus primroses come in virtually all colors of the rainbow!

Colorful displays of English primrose (Primula Polyanthus group, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9) are in many garden centers now and can give a feeling of spring with their vibrant colors and fragrance. These primroses are available in almost every color and sometimes blends of different colors. Most garden centers will have plants in bloom, and I suggest selecting those covered in flower buds because they will remain in bloom longer. English primroses also make excellent outdoor potted plants that provide early spring color to an entryway. I always like to have several primrose pots around our entryway, which will remain in flower well into the spring, especially in a protected area. I plant them in humus-rich Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. While English primroses are technically perennials, many gardeners treat them as early-season annuals, but this is a waste. They are very hardy and can be planted in the ground for long-term enjoyment.

Plant Winter-Blooming Shrubs

Camellia ‘Yuletide’ has small, bright red flowers that bloom early.

Perhaps you have noticed an area in your garden where some winter color would be welcome. If our weather stays mild, January can be a good month to plant winter-blooming shrubs. Some good examples are winter witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia, mollis, and vernalis hybrids, Zones 5-8) and sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua, Zones 7-9), which perform well in our Pacific Northwest climate as well as other parts of the country.  Witch hazels are large shrubs to small deciduous trees with flowers that have many narrow, crumpled petals that appear before the leaves. Flowers are fragrant and most varieties also exhibit beautiful fall leaf color. Sasanqua camellia generally has smaller flowers than the more familiar Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), but it usually blooms earlier, from late fall to early winter. One of the most popular varieties is ‘Yuletide’ because of the bright red flowers with yellow anthers; the plants are often in bloom during the Christmas season. These camellias make excellent container plants, and I would suggest using Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir in which to plant them. When planting in the garden, these shrubs like full to partial sunlight and highly organic soil. (Click here for planting instructions.) Amending it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or peat moss is a good idea. (Click here to learn about more winter-blooming shrubs.)

Buy Seeds Early

Seeds are hot! Be sure to buy yours early this year.

Vegetable gardening and starting plants from seed have become very popular, so it is wise to purchase your seeds from seed catalogs and online seed sellers as early as possible. You don’t want to miss out on being able to get all of the seeds that you want. (Click here to learn how to grow plants from seed.)

With the continuing restrictions due to COVID-19, it can be a challenge to visit other gardens. This places limits on us seeing what plants are blooming in other gardens, but I’ve found that just walking around local neighborhoods can be an inspiration. My garden has been my ‘go-to’ place for some calmness in life and having some color makes it all even better.

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Sometimes this time of year is referred to as the “dog days of summer”; however, I do not think of it in these terms. Yes, it is hot, many garden flowers are flagging, and there are garden tasks to do, but August is also a month when there is much for us to enjoy in the garden. As I sit on my deck this August morning, I am surrounded by colorful pots of salvia, begonias, lobelia, heliotrope, abutilon, fuchsias, and even a Doris Day floribunda rose bush. But, to enjoy the late-summer garden, it needs daily care.

Groom Tired Flowers

Flagging petunias will appreciate a mid- to late-summer haircut to keep them pretty into fall.

One of my early morning tasks is to remove old flowers and perform some general grooming to keep all my garden plants looking as good as possible. I carry a pair of sharp pruners and snip off any out-of-line branches, poor-looking foliage, or dying flowers. It takes little effort and keeps the garden looking its best. (For more detail, read Teri Keith’s recent article about pruning and deadheading garden perennials and annuals in midsummer.)

Cut Flowers for Bouquets

Cut bouquets of your favorite, long-lasting cut flowers in the garden.

Dahlias are just coming into their prime blooming season and should continue to flower until about the middle of October.  Yesterday, as I was walking my dog, a neighbor was cutting dahlias and gave me a beautiful bouquet. On hot days, dahlia foliage and flowers can quickly wilt in the summer sun, and a top dressing of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can help alleviate this issue by helping to retain moisture. Cut dahlia flowers early in the day when they look their best and keep them picked to prolong their blooming season. (Click here to read our recent garden article detailing Jessie Keith’s favorite summer cut flowers.)

Feed Container Gardens

Now is the time to fertilize and give containers extra water.

By the time August arrives, many plants in containers that have grown throughout the summer will have root systems that have begun to fill the container. Once roots fill a container, they will begin to circle the wall of the pot resulting in a pot-bound planting. This root mass will quickly become dry, and the plants will wilt from lack of water. I have found that some containers may need watering twice a day if it is hot and especially if there are drying winds. Don’t expect rain to supply the needed moisture as the foliage can be so thick that the water does not penetrate the soil. Water each container at the base of the plants until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer or reservoir. August is also a good time to give plants in containers fresh all-purpose fertilizer because many of the original nutrients have leached out.

Prepare the Vegetable Garden for Fall

Late summer is the time to plant cool-season crops, like lettuce.

Some early-season vegetables may be on the decline. Remove them to make space for a fall vegetable garden. Add fresh amendments before planting fall vegetables. Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great vegetable garden amendment that is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and contains mycorrhizae to encourage better growth, naturally.

It depends on the specific area you live in, but here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we plant peas can good herbs for the fall garden as well as beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, and kale as well as other brassicas. Now is the perfect time to purchase seeds and get your fall vegetables growing.

“Edit” Your Garden for Fall

Iris and daylilies can be divided in late summer as you “edit” your garden.

August is a good month to think about some garden editing. In my own garden, I occasionally plant plants in the wrong place, or perhaps they have grown larger than I had expected. When moving them to new locations, I make sure to remember where spring bulbs are planted, or I move the bulbs as needed. I also consider the surrounding area and how it might have changed in terms of light and wind. As trees and shrubs grow or are pruned, they may be casting shade on plants that need the sun or providing more sun to an area that was once shady.

If your garden has bearded or Siberian iris, late August is an ideal time to divide them. Often, beds of bearded iris decline in bloom because they are too crowded, while clumps of Siberian iris can quickly become too dense. Diving both about every three years will ensure that they bloom beautifully each spring and don’t overgrow an area.

Give Roses a Boost

Now’s the time to prune off damaged branches, old blooms, and feed your roses for the fall.

Keep roses picked and cut the stems long on hybrid-tea types for the vase. New growth will appear, and the new flowers of fall will be more at eye level where their scent can be best enjoyed. Fertilize roses one last time before spring.

In these troubling times, our gardens, whether large or small, can offer us a hiatus from some of the negative forces around us.  Even a small area on a deck, balcony, or patio can give us some respite from the world in which we live. Enjoy your plants, and realize that they don’t know what is going on around them. Give them water and nurture them, and they will provide you with much pleasure.

Early Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

By the time the month of June arrives, I like to think that I have many of my early-season garden tasks completed. However, this is rarely the case because in a garden, there is always something to do and a project that has not been completed. And, this has been quite a spring.

The spring of 2020 has been nothing like the norm, with the Covid-19 virus and its restrictions. Thank goodness I have a garden. I believe that those of us that do have a garden realize how fortunate we are. One might think that being at home without leave would have allowed me to complete many early-season garden tasks, but I cannot say that it has! Anyway, the start of summer brings about its own set of tasks to maintain garden harmony.

Early Summer Rose Care

The golden blooms of Julia Child® shine through summer, especially if deadheaded. (Photo Courtesy of © Weeks Roses)

Roses are in their first full bloom cycle, and, of course, after bloom comes the task of deadheading. This is not a particularly enjoyable task because of the thorns (long-cuffed rose-gloves are a must), but as I cut off the spent bloom stems I am encouraging new buds to emerge and will soon have a second surge of fresh flowers. Fertilizing roses after deadheading is recommended to further enhance continuous flowering in rebloomers.

It is also a good time to plant new rose bushes to see the flowers in real life in your garden, rather than in a picture. Be sure to choose varieties that resist common rose diseases, like black spot and powdery mildew. There are many to choose from, such as the gold-flowered ‘Julia Child’ and the compact roses in Proven Winners’ Oso Easy Series (click here to learn about disease-resistant roses and organic rose growing).

Early Summer Vegetable Garden Care

You can continue planting fast-to-produce vegetables up until late summer.

There has been a huge increase in the sales of vegetable seeds and plants by home gardeners this spring. If you have a location for an edible garden, it is not too late to plant it with summer vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, beans, and squash. Prepare vegetable beds by adding natural & organic Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and thoroughly mixing it into the existing soil. If you have raised beds consider filling them with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and specially formulated for raised-bed growing.

If planting tomatoes, get different varieties to prolong the fruiting season. Vining or indeterminant tomato plants need strong support from cages or stakes, which should be supplied at time of planting (click here to learn more about growing tomatoes). Beans and many summer squashes can still be planted from seed (click here to learn more about growing beans). Be on the lookout for cutworms, slugs, and snails as newly germinated seedling would be considered a delicacy. (Click here for a vegetable garden guide for new gardeners.)

Early Summer Rhododendron Care

Deadheading Rhododendron keeps the shrubs looking tidy.

Rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias have probably finished, or are nearly finished, with blooming. Remove the faded blossoms, being careful on rhododendrons not to remove the new growth that appears just below the developing seed heads of the old flowers. If rhododendrons or azaleas need pruning for space considerations, this is a good time because there is still time for the plant to produce new growth and set next year’s flower buds. Camellias should also be pruned directly after flowering.

Plant Something New

Gloriosa lilies are tropical vining lilies that bloom through summer’s warmth.

I think that most gardeners like to plant something new in their garden, and I am no exception. Last summer when visiting a garden, I saw pots of Gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’) in bloom. It has been many years since I had grown this tender perennial in my garden, and I had forgotten how beautiful the flowers were. Seeing these plants in full bloom last year, I knew that I had to try them again, so earlier this spring, I bought tubers and planted them in several large pots. Gloriosa lilies like rich soil, so I used Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Gloriosa lily is a vine with tendrils at the leaf tips, and so it does need some support, such as a medium-sized trellis. I am happy to say that my tubers are growing beautifully.

Hyacinth beans love warm weather and have beautiful flowers and pods.

As mentioned earlier in this article, it is a good time to plant beans, and not all beans are grown for food. An ornamental bean with colorful flowers and pods is the vining purple hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus). The heat-loving African native is easy to start from seed, fast-growing, and blooms over a long period of time with flowers and bean pods on display at the same time. Be sure to give it plenty of space to ramble because the twining vines can reach 15 feet or more.

The work in a garden is never done, and in my own garden, I always have a pair of hand clippers with me to trim off a spent flower or wayward branch. I try to make even the mundane chores interesting by thinking of the benefits they will reap. Even though we have monthly tasks, don’t let them be overwhelming. Keep your garden as a stress-free environment and a place for enjoyment and relaxation.

Happy June!