Wendy Banham

Dig In – by Wendy Banham

Spring – it’s the time of year when it feels good to just get rid of stuff. Inside our homes, we call it Spring cleaning. Outside, it’s not much different, really.

If you left all your dead stalks and seeds in your garden over the winter to provide food and habitat for birds and other small creatures (good for you!), now it’s time to do the big clean-up. It shouldn’t take long before you can see bare dirt, or maybe even a few perennials popping up; early ones like poppies, for instance.

You can still help your neighbourhood birds, though, now! It’s perfectly okay to set up bird feeders, as food is still a bit sparse at this time of year. Suet cakes imbedded with seeds are good, too. Also, feel free to hang up a Hummingbird feeder, as long as you don’t use coloured sugar water, which could be dangerous to their health. Hummingbirds burn a lot of calories so they can use your help.

Another job that you can get started on is pruning. The silver lining behind this year’s very cold winter and early Spring is that it’s not too late to tackle this job. Most shrubs and trees are still dormant, and can therefore handle having bits of themselves chopped off. If you find the idea of pruning a bit intimidating, you’re not alone, but it’s actually not that difficult if you stick to the basics, and be a bit brave about it:

First, you have to figure out what you can prune, and what you should leave alone for now. The basic rule is that any Summer-flowering shrub should be pruned in the Spring, and Spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned in the Summer. If you prune a Spring-flowering shrub now, you will likely be cutting off all the buds, and will end up with no flowers at all.

Keep your pruning simple. First, cut off anything that looks like it’s dead or dying. After that, if it’s a tree, check for branches that are growing towards the middle, and give those a chop.  Then, look for branches that are crossing each other, pick the strongest looking one, and snip the other one off.

Finally, stand back and have a look at the shape, then adjust as needed. (It’s a matter of personal taste, really.) Some people like their shrubs looking terribly symmetrical – others prefer a more relaxed look. There’s really not a right or a wrong.

Don’t worry too much about over-pruning, as pruning actually encourages new growth. Chances are your shrubs will be happier for it.

As your garden starts to wake up, you might want to dig in some compost, or manure, or maybe even a fresh layer of dirt as a top dressing. The nutrients you need for a beautiful garden do eventually wash away, and will need to be replenished.

If you have Spring bulbs, remember to leave them alone for a while, even after they have finished blooming, as the greenery helps the bulbs grow bigger and stronger for next year.

Next, it’s time to plan your garden. It’s too early to plant much of anything other than Primulas, but the fun is in planning the shape of things to come!

More on that in a future post. And now, at long last, let gardening season begin!

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  • Reply Jane Rowland April 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Thank you Wendy, for the tips on pruning shrubs. I cannot wait to get back out there after our very long winter. I always try not to be too neat in the garden as I know that the birds and critters like it a little messy. I prefer the somewhat rustic looks rather than sterile suburban.

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