I don’t enjoy winter as some people do and mark days until it is over.

1.     December 21st-days start getting longer.

2.     February 1st-the worst, coldest month is gone and the heating pads are plugged in to warm the seed starting mix for the slowest plants to germinate.

3.     March 1st -it is getting time to start the majority of seeds whose packet says 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost.

          -Also time for slow release granules on my plants that are up, as          seed starting soil usually does not have much “food” available.

     -Houseplants are perking up with the longer days and are ready      for the same slow release fertilizer.

          Now by March one it may be dry enough and warm enough to start clean up.  Lenten roses (Hellebores species) will probably be in bloom. The blooms may last for several months. They may be covered with leaves that have blown in.  A rake might tear some of the blossoms so I generally use my hand as a rake to uncover the plants.  They may be dry but like moist soil so may need some water. Since I have a chain link fence all around the yard there is a collection of leaves and sticks that have blown in.  But there will still be frost, so remove only the deep piles that could suffocate any new plants. Also, I like to tuck several inches under the shrubs to discourage weed seeds from coming up. By this time they are limp and tend to settle down rather than blow around. 

          During the fall I like to get a goodly amount of the dead foliage out of the garden as a wet spring keeps me out of the yard.  If I did not get to the PEONIES, I do it now by cutting them to the ground. They are subject to Botrytis blight which turns the buds brown so their foliage goes to the land fill and not the compost pile. There may be some leaves nearby so I like to rake the area clean and put new mulch in the area but not on top of the plants.  PEONIES are usually divided in the fall with 3 “eyes” in each new plant.  Seed takes 2 to 3 years just to germinate.

          Hellebores sp. (Lenten Rose) will be in bloom soon and a goodly number of their leaves still green.  Tree leaves can be removed from on top of the plant at this time and tucked in as mulch. The tired leaves of the plant can be cut to the ground. Usually by late February or early March the buds and new leaves can be seen. There may also be small seedlings for you to look out for. They probably won’t be exactly like their parents, especially if you have gotten some of the new hybrids.  Slugs enjoy their leaves but won’t be around until it warms up.  Hellebores like damp soil very close to a neutral pH of 7 and full of humus so the flowers will last for a long time until our heat affects them. They also do not enjoy wind and do well in high shade.

          BEE BALM (Monarda didyma) comes up fairly early and needs to have the old foliage cut off.  They also tend to spread by runners that can be moved or given away.  If you feel or look close you will notice they have square stems.  They like full sun and will get mildew unless you thin out the clumps enough to get good air circulation.  There are white, lavender, dark purple, pink, and bright red ones.  The plants are called OSWEGO TEA as that tribe of Indians taught the pioneers to use the leaves for tea.  They are called BEE BALM because they attract bees as well as humming birds.

          Many people let their cone flowers stand all winter as birds will enjoy the seed heads.  In this case there will be a good amount of dead foliage that can be cut off as immediately under are the new leaves.  Sometimes one can snap the stems off at ground level but be careful not to jerk the new growth loose.  Do not put in the compost pile as it probably contains insects or their eggs, or some diseases.  Don’t expose that new growth too early in the spring.

          If you did not remove the old iris foliage in the fall it is important to do it very early in the spring. The IRIS borer lays eggs on the fall foliage and they wait to hatch and travel down the new. Some gardeners burn the old foliage off.  IRIS rhizomes are right at the top of the soil so it is very easy to jerk them loose during cleanup.  MUMS are also very easy to pull up by the roots if you use a rake or try to break the old foliage off. Their new shallow rooted babies are generally at the outside area of the clump.

          On the very short ground covers such as WILD GERANIUMS, also called CRANESBILL, I generally take my big scissors or shears and do a close “hair cut”.  Most of them are not over six inches high and many start quite early in the spring as they don’t like hot weather or wet feet.  Some spread faster than others so it’s easy to just stick a spade in to get a new clump for somewhere else. Many new colors with dark centers, stripes, or colored veins have been developed in the last few years.  They may stop flowering during our hottest weather and do quite well in light shade. 

          BUTTERFLY BUSH (Buddlia sp.) and BLUE SPIREA (Caryopteris sp.) both bloom on new wood and both may die to the ground in a bad winter.  Some people cut both of them back to the ground in the fall after the hard frosts.  If I cut back in the fall I generally leave about 12 inches of stems, put a cage over the top and fill it with compost.  I have noticed the nursery catalogs recommending not cutting back until spring and think they do better.  I have done this on some of them, and in a mild winter there is new growth quite a bit higher than 12 inches.  Bloom seems to be the same either way but most of the branches need to be part of your spring clean up. The Caryopteris starts several weeks ahead of the Buddlia for me.  

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