Wake Up Your Garden!

Karen Cauthen Ellsworth, director of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, shares four tips for gardens that are just waking up to spring

spring gardening tasksAs my garden wakes up from its unusually long winter’s nap, it is full of chartreuse-colored new growth, stalwart daffodils, and dainty primroses. With Historic Garden Week, the project I share with 3,300 dedicated Garden Club of Virginia volunteers, nearly two weeks away, here are a few spring gardening tasks I’ve added to keep my garden in Richmond looking its best.

Pre-prune perennials

Say that five times, fast. This is a great way to ensure a compact clump instead of a leggy, and less attractive form. It took me awhile to be brave enough to drastically cut back baby foliage, but for late-summer bloomers, like Shasta daisies and Russian sage, it makes a difference.

Keep a journal

It will help you you remember what works in your garden and when to fertilize, prune, amend, etc. While Mother Nature’s rhythm means most tasks are ideally performed during certain seasons, every garden, and hence, gardener, is different. Jot comments about weather, soil and the condition of your plants, noting things you want to change next year, then refer back at the beginning of each season.

Maintain gardening tools

Use steel wool to remove rust on shovels and hand-tools after cleaning thoroughly with soapy water. Get your lawn mower serviced and its blade sharpened. Some people do it themselves, but that’s too scary for me, and it is included with my yearly tune-up, a nominal price to pay to ensure I retain all my fingers. Upgrade to a mulching blade and skip the bagging. It circulates the clippings so they are cut and recut into smaller pieces, allowing them to decompose more quickly, providing nutrients to the yard.

Stake your peonies

Now is the time to install peony rings. I know they are ugly, but that adolescent awkwardness only lasts a short time. Peonies are one of my favorites—I just added some ‘Myrtle Gentry’s’ to keep the ‘Raspberry Sundaes’ company in the fall, and splurged on my first Itoh peony (a cross between a tree peony and a traditional herbaceous peony), making a collection of 20 now. A simple peony ring helps their heavy heads last longer and keeps the plant tidier and the blooms upright. The best time to add support to peonies is in the early spring before they get too tall.

Text and photography by Karen Cauthen Ellsworth, director of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, vagardenweek.org