In this crazy time of limited travel and socializing, one thing we can engage with fully is our garden. This pandemic has brought out the ultimate in cocooning to the benefit of many home landscapes. More time on your hand? More opportunity to spread mulch, weed and prune.
When spreading mulch, be sure to use an organic mulch that will decompose, adding nutrients and improving the structure of your soil. My preference is leaf mulch, but bark mulch or well composted yard waste is OK, too. Avoid dyed mulches. The dyes can be toxic to plants and dyed mulches are usually made from un-composted wood high in carbon that can pull nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. Plus, mulch dyed red is just unnatural looking and has no place in a landscape. Also, be careful to rake old mulch before adding new mulch to prevent a hydrophobic crust that prevents water from reaching the soil and ultimately plant roots. Add only a small layer of new mulch to your garden beds. Mulch should be no thicker than 2-3 inches including both new and old mulch layers. Do not pile mulch up around the base of tree, despite what you see in public landscapes or neighbors’ homes. Mulch mounds are a ploy by unskilled landscapers to make you buy more mulch. Mulch mounds promote a moist environment around tree trunks and cause decay, allowing the entry of insects and disease organisms. Some people think they are preventing weeds by piling on the mulch, but a thin layer will prevent most annual weeds from germinating and perennial weeds, like dandelions, can grow though any thickness of mulch.
Most pruning should be accomplished in late winter and early spring before trees and shrubs leaf out. But some shrubs that bloom on old wood are better pruned right after flowering. Also, some plants will have dieback and it is hard to see which branches require pruning until the tree or shrub has leafed out fully. Now is the time to carefully prune dead branches back to the nearest live branch. That can be tedious work, but your trees and shrubs will look much better when cleared of the dead branches.
Weeding can be an undesirable task or an absolute pleasure depending on your frame of mind. If you have a comfortable pad for your knees, a good weeding tool (like a narrow trowel or a hori hori), a pair of well-fitting garden gloves and a bucket for placing your weeds, I can think of nothing more satisfying than making your way from bed to bed and pulling weeds in your garden. Be sure to pull out the entire plant, including the roots. If you pull the top of the weed, you have only solved the problem temporarily. Some plants may even grow back more vigorously when their foliage is removed.
The long, cool spring has been great for many plants. Blossoms on spring blooming trees (other than saucer magnolia that got hit by our late frosts) have lasted much longer than normal. Now that we are getting some warm days, you can start putting foliage plants outdoors and pot up containers of annuals and mixed tropicals. Take some time to walk around your garden and notice the subtle changes that occur daily as well as the “wow” aspects of your garden that are unmissable (like this sweep of golden ragwort – Packera aurea).