NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 16, 2014

Tim's Tips: Spring brings up questions on pruning, mulching

Tim's Tips
Tim Lamprey

---- — Whenever I get a lot of people asking the same questions at the store, I know that I have the makings of a weekly column. After all, if a lot of people are asking the same questions, then a lot of other people also have the same questions.

People always want to know about pruning plants in the spring. You should always prune out any dead wood on your plants. Rosebushes can come through the winter with dead canes. Those canes can be pruned back now. You can also prune rosebushes now to cut back on the size of the plant. The same goes for butterfly bushes and rose of Sharon. These plants will actually benefit from a light to moderate pruning each spring.

On the other hand, this is not the time to prune back rhododendrons and azaleas. They should be pruned back after they are done flowering. Of course, if there is dead wood on these plants, it can be pruned back now. Forsythia and any of the other early spring flowering shrubs are also pruned back after they are done flowering.

Several people have asked if they need to remove all of the mulch that they put down last year before they put down new mulch this year. You wouldn’t think that you should remove all the gas from your car before you go to fill it up. Why remove all of that perfectly good mulch?

If you put down 3 inches of mulch last year, you probably need to add only about an inch of mulch this year. Over time, the mulch will decompose and add organic matter to the soil. A top dressing of mulch will make the shrubs and the flower beds look better, and you will save a lot of time and money by not removing the mulch each year.

Speaking of mulching, who started this trend of mounding mulch up onto the trunks of trees? Mulch should never be mounded up onto the trunk of a tree. Over time, the trapped moisture in the mulch will damage the bark of the tree. Once that bark is damaged, the tree will not be able to take up food and water. Once that happens, you can plan on buying new trees. Mulch should always be kept a few inches away from the trunk or stem of any plant.

The cool spring has caused a lot of people to question when they should be putting down a crabgrass control on their lawns. The rule of thumb is that you put down the crabgrass control when the forsythia bushes come into bloom. The reason for this is that the soil temperature that makes the forsythia bushes drop their flowers is very close to the soil temperature that makes the crabgrass seed sprout. If you put the crabgrass control on too early, you run the risk of heavy rain washing it away.

The other thing that you must know about crabgrass control is that there are different types of crabgrass control. The organic control lasts about four weeks on the surface of the soil. This means that timing is critical if you want it to work. The good news is that you can reseed sooner than you can with the common chemical control. The organic control and the conventional crabgrass control will also kill grass seed. There is a crabgrass control that allows you to put down grass seed without harm to the grass seed, yet it will kill the crabgrass seed.

Well, those are some of the common questions that came up this past week. As always, if you have questions, you can stop by the store for our expert advice.

I’ll talk to you again next week.

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Tim Lamprey is the owner of Harbor Garden Center on Route 1 in Salisbury. His website is www.harborgardens.com. Do you have questions for Tim? Send them to ndn@newburyportnews.com, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.