The buds have started to come out, spring seems to be settling in.And we’ve got spring fever! Here are a few things you can do now to get your garden ready.
Removing winter protection
Protection hivernale de rosiers © Jardin botanique de Montréal (Roméo Meloche)
As a general rule, winter protection is removed when the snow melts, the ground thaws out and the risk of deep freeze has passed.
Resist the urge to remove the equipment too early, when a spike in mild weather makes the snow melt quickly (as was the case in March, 2012).
As soon as the snow has melted and the weather permits — and the deep cold is well and truly over — remove all winter protection, as plants can suffer from the heat accumulated under cones and insulating canvasses. In addition, humidity can increase the risk of certain fungal diseases.
If possible, remove the protection on a cloudy day or at the end of the day. Buds and deciduous leaves that have spent the winter months under a protective canvas can get burned or dry out when faced with a sudden change in climate, especially if they have spent the cold months under opaque canvasses or cones. Keep your protective canvasses on hand and put them back in the case of a late freeze.
Remove excess protective mulch and clear up the base of plants so as to reduce the risk of rotting at the crown (the junction between the roots and stem).
Once the soil is dry enough, you can clean up your flowerbeds, Beware of trampling the grass too early in the season. Don’t step on wet soil.
Pick up debris and prune away any dead branches. You can also cut back any perennial foliage kept as a winter decorative feature. If you used unshredded leaves for mulch, it is best to remove them. Otherwise, you can leave mulch in place; just rake it over a bit to aerate it. But remember to watch out for new shoots!
You may need to clean conifer foliage and shrub branches with running water to remove the dirt accumulated over the winter. This is especially important for plants exposed to salt spray from the road. On major roads, slush containing salt is sprayed by passing vehicles and the wind may carry fine droplets saturated with mineral salts that can damage the buds and foliage of many types of plants.
Pruning trees and shrubs
Hydrangea arborescens ssp. radiata © Jardin botanique de Montréal (Robert Mineau)
When the buds on your shrubs start to swell is a good time to remove any dead branches, because they are easy to distinguish from the live ones. Take the opportunity to cut off any diseased stems and those that have been broken or damaged during the winter.
Shrubs that flower on the current year’s growth (new growth) should be pruned in early spring to maximize their flowering time. This group is essentially made up of summer-blooming plants such as wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) and Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica).
On the other hand, shrubs that flower on the previous year’s growth (old growth) should be pruned immediately after their blooms have faded. Most of these are spring bloomers, such as forsythia (Forsythia sp.), mockorange (Philadelphus sp.), lilac (Syringa sp.) and Vanhoutte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei).
Dead, diseased, broken or damaged branches may be removed whenever they are spotted. Sprouts and suckers may also be removed at any time.
The best time for renewal or rejuvenation pruning is early spring, before the buds open. Depending on the species, regeneration pruning may be progressive (carried out over several years) or severe (coppicing).
No matter which type of pruning you choose, it is important to do it in dry weather, to use a well-sharpened cutting tool and to clean the blade with rubbing alcohol (ideally before and after each cut) to avoid any contamination.
Consult the Green Pages to learn more about pruning, planting techniques and other useful advice.
Have questions about gardening? Ask our horticultural information team at the Botanical Garden’s reception centre counter.