Friday, May 1, 2015

May 2015

Prune spring flowering shrubs. As I write this post on April 26th it is snowing. Crazy weather. And it is supposed to be 80 when I publish it on May 1st. Welcome to the high desert! Because we have had such a long warm spring many spring flowering shrubs like Lilacs (Syringa), Forsythia, Red-twigged Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles) and Spiraea bloomed long ago and are ready to be pruned. Pruning now will encourage growth and since most shrubs bloom on new wood you will have more flowers next spring. Start by removing the 3 D's. Anything that is dead, diseased or damaged. Next prune out all crossing or rubbing branches and anything that is heading toward the center. Lilacs, Dogwoods and Forsythia should then have 1/3 of their oldest woodiest growth taken all the way to the ground. Spiraeas that bloom in the spring such as 'Snowmound' should be pruned by removing the branches that flowered this year. Flowering Quince blooms on old wood, so prune it to shape down to an outward facing bud on each branch. Although it is not a shrub, Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) can also be pruned after flowering. I sweep off the spent flowers with a broom and then cut the foliage back by 1/3 to 1/2. These are the most popular spring flowering shrubs in our area but these rules can be applied to almost any shrub that flowers in the spring.

Start a new perennial bed. Creating a new perennial bed can be a very simple, satisfying undertaking that you will enjoy for years if you do some planning before you plant. And don't be surprised when it evolves over the years with new plants added as less appealing ones are removed. A perennial bed is a great way to reduce water vs grass. By preparing the soil properly, mulching well and watering effectively a perennial bed will use 25-50% less water than a lawn, depending on the plants used. First choose a location for your new bed. It can be a small, intimate area where you sit most often, a border along a walkway or a wall or an island in the center of your yard. Outline the area using a garden hose. Curving lines are more appealing than straight ones. When you have the shape and size the way you want it, and if it is a lawn area Here is a great article on several methods to remove a lawn without the use of herbicides. Prepare your new area for planting by working in Back to Earth Compost at a rate of 1 bag per 25 square feet. The addition of an all purpose fertilizer such as Chickity Doo Doo or Yum Yum Mix is recommended. Till or turn the soil to a depth of at least a foot; I know, you have hard soil/rocks/granite/caliche, we all do from here to San Diego-just do it. This will help the root development of your new plantings and make them more drought tolerant. Choose a theme for the area. Native, butterfly and/or hummingbird gardens can have color and interest all year long while using very little water. You will want to pick an anchor shrub or two for your bed. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Dwarf Burning Bush (Euonymus alata), Photinia, Bamboo (Phyllostachys), New Mexico Privet (Forestiera), Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) or an Ornamental Grass would all make a good starting point. Plant your anchor towards the back of the bed, anywhere but in the center. Taking into consideration the exposure (full sun, part shade, full shade) choose your perennials and work out from your anchor using plants that descend in height down to ground covers in the front. Groups of plants in odd numbers such as 3, 5 or 7 create the best impact when in bloom. Plant these groups in a natural formation, not straight lines. Be sure to include plants that flower in spring, flower in summer, color in the fall or have some winter interest such as berries, attractive seedheads or evergreen foliage. Late flowers or foliage plants should conceal gaps left by earlier flowering varieties. Be sure to mulch your new area to minimize weeds, conserve moisture and give it a finished look. A new perennial bed will take some work and planning but reward you with less watering and lots of visual interest.

Echinacea species. The Coneflower is a tried and true perennial that will give you color all summer long, attract butterflies and other beneficial insects and provide some winter interest with their attractive seedheads. There are several cultivars now in a variety of colors. 'Purple' is the most common with flowers ranging from pink to mauve, 'White Swan' is a pure white as its name implies, 'Magnus' has reddish-purple blooms and these three will reach 2-4 feet depending upon conditions. 'Pow Wow Wildberry' was bred to have darker red-purple flowers and a more compact habit at 16-24 inches. Our new favorite, growing to 2 feet, is 'Cheyenne Spirit' which is a mix of scarlet, gold, pink, orange, cream and red. All of these Coneflowers will grow to 18 inches wide, can take full sun or part shade and fit well in a perennial bed or xeriscape.
Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'
Echinacea 'Pow Wow Wildberry'

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