Winter may stop us from gardening, but it doesn’t stop questions from coming in. So here are answers to a few of the questions I’ve recently received on topics that are probably on a lot of people’s minds.
Q: When should I prune my shrubs so I don’t cut off the blooms?
Good question. Most spring-flowering shrubs bloom on “old wood” or the previous year’s stems. So if you get out there early in the spring and start chopping back spring bloomers like lilac, azaleas, pea shrub, honeysuckle, chokeberry, forsythia and mock orange, you won’t get blooms that year because you probably chopped them off. Sometimes you have to do this because a shrub has gotten out of control. But, ideally, to make sure these beauties bloom from year to year, prune them shortly after they finish flowering in the spring or early summer.
Q: How long do lights need to be on when you start seeds indoors?
Plants need to get about 12 to 16 hours of light every day when they’re growing under lights, so it’s best to put them on a timer and then you don’t have to remember to flip lights on and off.
If you hang your lights from chains like I do, make sure they are 2 to 4 inches above your seedlings, no higher or they won’t get the light they need. And, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, cool white fluorescent tube lights are perfectly fine for starting seeds. No need to spend money on expensive grow lights.
Q: How far back should I cut ornamental grasses that have turned brown?
Here’s a silly saying that will help you forever remember the answer to this one: If it’s brown, cut it down. So in Minnesota, where all ornamental grasses that are standing or flopping over are brown, feel free to grab a lopper or hedge trimmer and cut grasses back to the ground or to where you see new green growth. Your goal is to once again expose the top of the plant to air and water and sunshine. If you have a compost bin or pile, take a minute to make a few more cuts so you can add manageable-sized pieces of dried grass rather than huge, long stems.
Q: The evergreens in my yard have a lot of brown patches on them. Are they dying?
Probably not. It’s common for evergreen shrubs and trees to suffer winter burn in our harsh climate. Damage, which can look like browning and/or bleaching, is usually most noticeable on the south and southwest sides of plants, but can also be on any side that faces stiff winds. Water loss is the main cause of winter burn. So the best thing you can do to protect evergreens is to keep them watered throughout the growing season—all the way up until the ground freezes, often in late November.
Wait a little while into spring before deciding that a browned evergreen is dead. Often, new foliage will grow out and all will be well. Even if that doesn’t happen, if the damage isn’t catastrophic and only buds and stems are brown, prune those branches back to about ¼ inch above healthy buds. New growth will likely take over from there.
Q: Do I have to throw my Easter Lily away or can I plant it outside?
Traditional Easter lilies aren’t always hardy enough to make it through our winters, but there are many lilies that are sold for Easter that are hardy. If you have one in a pot that you’d like to plant in your garden, go for it. The worst thing that will happen is that it won’t make it.
To give your lily the best start possible, pluck off faded flowers and yellowed leaves, and keep it watered and lightly fertilized indoors until mid-May or so when the soil has warmed up. Then, transplant it just a little deeper in the soil that it was in the pot and give it some water. Try not to fret. It could be a season or two before the lily blooms again.
Check out Meleah’s blog — everydaygardener.com — for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.