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Spring is Officially Here, and so is Frost

The sun rises over mountains where the trees are just beginning to grow green leaves.
Spring is here, but we're not completely past cold weather yet - the Old Farmer's Almanac estimates the last frost will pass in mid-April for much of Virginia. (Photo: Lukas Schlagenhauf)

I am so excited to see winter falling behind us each day as spring slowly unfolds. While early blooming ornamental plants herald the arrival of longer days in our landscapes, the emergence of Skunk Cabbage in natural wetlands signals spring as well.

 

White, pink and red flowers are arranged in a wooden planter outside.
Peggy keeps non-native ornamentals in pots and planter boxes. (Photo: Peggy Singlemann)


These past months I have enjoyed many webinars via video conferencing and am recognizing the shift gardeners are taking toward using more local native plants in the landscape. Dr. Doug Tallamy shared in one webinar that we should strive to increase the mass of native plants in our landscapes to about 70%.  By doing so we will start reconstructing the ecosystem that has been segmented during suburban growth. The goal is to create connections that will string back together corridors for insects, birds, mammals, and amphibians to thrive in. Just like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, one property at a time.

 

Low-growing, green, three-leaved plants poke up through the dirt and mulch.
Native Columbine is beginning to grow this time of year. (Photo: Peggy Singlemann)

To preserve the indigenous insect population needed to support our birds and other wildlife, Janet Davis of Hill House Farm & Nursery promotes waiting to cut back the perennial border until you can see the emerging new growth. Recently I decided to test the few borders I enjoy at home by cutting back only plants not native to Virginia. The plants remaining were far less than I thought making a stark statement of my need to include more local Virginia native plants in my personal landscape. To my credit, I have numerous native trees on my property, and I am in the middle establishing a 1/3-acre native meadow under the guidance of Bob Glennon, a private lands biologist. I will be sharing this project through future Facebook posts. That said, I am still well below the 70% plant mass of Virginia natives goal so I will be adjusting tree, shrub, and perennial plant choices moving forward. At Maymont, the scales are tipped in the favor of native plants with the Arboretum, Marie’s Butterfly Trail, the 100% Virginia native landscape around the Robins Nature Center, native plants around the native wildlife habitat and the large rain garden planted with VA natives. I now challenge you to cut back or clean up around the non-native or exotic plants in your landscape to visually confirm the remaining number of Virginia native plants growing in your gardens. Moving forward, consider plant choices that are Virginia natives as we reach for the goal of 70%. 


As March draws to a close, the peach, pear, and apple trees along with the grape vines should be pruned. Hold off on pruning cherry trees until the fall to avoid open wounds that are easy access for insects to infest these soft-wooded trees. To help guide new apple tree growers, there is a video by Peggy on VHG’s Facebook page on how to prune young apple trees.  


Modern rose bushes should be pruned now, while climbing roses and heritage roses are pruned after they bloom - when that time comes only dead wood, crossing wood, and directional growth pruning needs to be addressed. At Maymont a healthy hedge was harshly pruned to rejuvenate growth at a lower more manageable height. Winter weeds need to be removed before they set seed and mulch applied, of course without mounding it against a plant.

 

A pine tree had many of its branches snapped off after the recent ice storm.
The recent ice storms damaged many trees and shrubs. (Photo: Hugo Mendoza)

The recent ice storms have left many stubs in trees throughout the community, and it is important to properly prune what you can to avoid insect infestations and disease. Remember to never make a flush cut on a tree, always leave a small stub. If the heavy snow and ice disfigured a shrub, loosely tie the branch back to where it needs to be and make a note to leave it for only 6 months. The branch should readjust to the new/old position, and the rope or fastener can be removed.


Early April opens more opportunities to work in the vegetable garden. In USDA hardiness zone 7A, which is about central for our viewing area, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, carrots, beets, leeks, lettuce, potatoes, and turnips can be planted. The soil is still too cool for most nightshade veggies including peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant - be patient, their time is coming! 


I do encourage you to use the takeout containers that seem to have collected these past months for seed-starting, and save a few for rooting cuttings in June. With a nicely fitting cover they make great growing chambers, just remember to remove the lid in stages after germination so the humidity inside can adjust to the humidity outside the container.

Join us for our Season 21 premiere episode on Tuesday, March 30 at 8 p.m. on VPM PBS.

Thanks for watching and happy gardening!
Peggy