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A Scattershot Of Spring Thoughts

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Dark Reiter geraniums with and without flowers.

I feel like a bumblebee jumping from one dandelion flower to another right now! My head virtually spins with concerns, lists of plants to buy and making sure I remember to get to all the tasks that need doing in the spring garden.

The weather has been downright confounding! The rollercoaster of fluctuating temperatures, threatening frosts and drying winds has drastically delayed consistent seasonal warming. Those subfreezing temperatures in early April did massive temporary and permanent damage to perennials, fruit trees and evergreens.

The question I’m getting a lot lately is what to do about the severely browned evergreens like arborvitae, cypress and cedar. Extended periods of warm weather followed by a rapid temperature drop is the perfect formula for evergreen freeze damage. These types of trees had already started to acclimate to warmer temperatures and the sudden, severe drop packed a huge wallop. According to my go-to guy for anything “tree,” Doug Mayer of Newton Hook Tree Care, the only thing to do is wait. In June, look for signs of greening buds and don’t prune out the brown branches yet or you may be cutting off the emerging healthy growth. The browned needles (an evergreen’s leaves) will eventually dry and fall off. He says don’t fertilize, and make sure the affected specimens are well watered. If you don’t start to see some signs of green growth by the end of spring, you’ll have to consider replacement.

On a lighter note, I’m determined to focus on new plant combinations for container plantings and mixed borders, and not to resort to the same ol’, same ol’. Many perennials either heaved out of the ground and were lost because of the temperature extremes or suffered so much damage they deserve an honorable burial in the compost pile. This presents an opportunity to introduce something different to an area that has been static for years. Rather than just replacing them with the same plant, I’m trying to use “fresh eyes” to see how I can enliven a design with a new species or foliage color. I’m very fond of a newish selection of meadow cranesbill, “Dark Reiter” geranium. It forms a compact mound of finely cut, plum purple foliage. Dark foliage plants create excellent contrast and make all the plants around them look more interesting.

For pots and window boxes, my spring resolution is to think out of the box and use more perennials mixed with annuals and tropicals, my typical choices. Flowering plants are an essential component of mixed containers but using heucheras (coral bells), for instance, provides a mass of colored foliage that can’t be beat. They’re available in an ever-expanding palette of colors that are not found in annuals. And, at the end of the season, I’ll pop them into an open spot in the garden.

Hopefully the weather will truly warm up soon and we’ll all be able to get those seedlings in the ground before they get too leggy. Oh, and another thing… what about the bumper crop of dandelions this year? The list goes on…

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/17/16 at 11:12 AM • Permalink