The arrival of spring means outdoor chores

The extended cool, wet, weather continues as I write this column on May 12. I could use some sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s right now, instead of overnight temperatures in the upper 30’s and low 40’s. I have recorded more than 4 inches of rain since May 1, as well.

My garden soil is still much too cold and wet to plant or transplant anything right now and I have yet to harvest any asparagus.

On the plus side, this weather, has extended the bloom period for our spring flowering trees and shrubs. Crabapples, other wild fruit trees, pears and plums and cherries are putting out a spectacular display right now as are ornamental shrubs and early blooming perennials.

It is a great season for lilacs, azaleas, redbud, and just about every other plant that flowers in April and May.

Remember that most of these spring bloomers are best pruned immediately after the flowers fade. It is not necessary to “deadhead” (remove spent flowers) shrubs like Lilac and Rhododendrons, but this practice will often lead to more flowers next season.

If your flowering tree or shrub has gotten overgrown, you can safely cut it back by about one third right now, but it might take two seasons to flower again.

Cutting lilacs back hard, right now will usually result in new shoots arising from the roots. If these shoots are topped at about 3 feet in height, they will branch and within two seasons they should bloom nicely on those new shoots.

Lilacs are best enjoyed when the flowers are produced at nose height! There are dwarf lilacs available that rarely exceed four or five feet tall.

Yesterday I visited a friend whose home was beautifully landscaped by Story’s nursery about 25 years ago.

Many of the original plants still remain, but some of them have just outgrown their space, despite good pruning and maintenance.

I see this often in suburban landscapes where the foundation plantings now obscure the doors and windows. At some point it is time to bite the bullet and yank the overgrown plants out. It may seem a shame to replace a heathy, beautiful, 7 foot tall evergreen or rhododendron, but if the shrub is blocking windows or doors, or if the roots are under the foundation, it may be time to replace it with a smaller specimen.

Of course, you must be prepared to pay a whole lot more for these replacement shrubs than the previous ones cost! I have been unpleasantly surprised at the prices of all sorts of plants this spring.

Even annual herb garden plants like basil, thyme, rosemary and oregano are selling for almost double the prices of two years ago.

I don’t think I will pay $7 for a 4 inch potted basil plant. I am pleased to see that seed packets have once again returned to the store shelves and I plan to start many more plants from seed than I have in previous years.

Some things I will just grimace and buy since I don’t have time to grow them from seed.

As my late friend, Lester, used to say, when we complained about the price of a six pack of beer, rising to $3 or so, “Let’s face if Bob, if it cost $10 a six pack, we would still buy it.” He was right of course.

Most of you have had to mow your lawns at least twice, since northern turf grasses love this cool, wet weather and are growing accordingly. Set your mower to 3 inches and mow when the grass is about four inches tall.

It is still too early to fertilize, or apply broad leaf weed killers right now, with the exception of crabgrass preventers. An organic, crabgrass preventer is corn gluten meal and that can be applied now.

It will suppress these annual weeds next spring, as well as acting as a slow release fertilizer. Normally, crabgrass begins to grow when forsythia is in full bloom, but this year it seems like they are no longer on the same page, phenologically speaking.

I have not seen any sign of crabgrass even in place where the forsythia has been done for weeks.

Sharpen your lawnmower blades, clean and oil your hand tools and make sure you clean out your bird nesting boxes. Spray some disinfectant in the boxes to kill any mites that may remain.

Bluebirds have already taken up residence in the south, but other songbirds are still looking for nest sites.

If you still have bird feeders up, take them down every single night, or be prepared for a visit by your local black bear. Hummingbirds have retuned and once a bear has snacked on your bird seed, it may very well return to trash your hummingbird feeder as well.

To reach Bob Beyfuss, email rlb14@cornell.edu.

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