This winter was one of the warmest winters I can remember, but it also seems to have been one of the gloomiest I can remember. I chose not to go south so I would have more down time and catch up on some things. Bad choice! Anyhow, if your reading this, you survived along with all the other poor Michiganders. Weather reports say it was the warmest winter on record since 1880, with the second warmest winter being 2016. Usually our late winter plants are able to handle the thermostat roller coaster ride, but this year my winter blooming crocus, Lenton Rose, and early Daffodils froze to a crisp. So disappointing! Then, March went out like a lion. But now it seems like the worst is behind us. I am beginning to feel the effects of more sunshine already. Mostly from the long hours I put into my garden last weekend. Some of you may also have already begun your yard work, but here are a few spring chores clients seem to ask me the most about.
Hydrangeas. There are several different kinds of Hydrangeas, all which require completely different care. For the hardy Hydrangea paniculatas (Limelight, Quick Fire or Pink Diamond to name a few), I recommend select pruning to allow air into the shrub. The cuts vary from removing just last years flower, to 8″, 16″, or even harder on some of the older thicker branches in the middle. The finished shape should be loose. Step back to see how it’s shaping up. Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (some Mops bloom on new wood) can be pruned to any shape. Cutting a branch will encourage that branch to produce multiple shoots below that cut. The goal is to thicken up and out. As long as the exterior shape is loosely described, the shrub will prosper. Shearing deciduous shrubs may take less time, but produces less than desirable results. Renovating shrubs that have been sheared takes a long time, usually 3 years. One cut at a time is my best advice. Investing in a great pair of pruners makes this work easier. These pruning techniques apply to most deciduous shrubs, not just the paniculata Hydrangea.
Annabelle Hydrangeas are less complicated. Here in Michigan we can cut these right down to the ground. About 4-6″. Though, if they are in a shady area, or tend to flop with heavy blooms, I recommend only trimming them back 6″ or so. This allows the stems to remain thick & sturdy and support those heavy blooms when they get soaked with rain. Annabelle’s bloom on new wood and pruning helps regenerate new growth, allowing for more blooms.
Mop Hydrangeas (Forever, Nikko Blue, and Endless Summer are a few) are the most finicky Hydrangeas in Michigan. Reason being that very often we will have a warm up in early spring and then, whop! We get hit with a hard frost. Last year was strange here in Kalamazoo. East of 9th street we had one of the best displays of Mop Hydrangeas in years, but west of 9th street there was maybe 1 or 2 blooms per shrub. Unfortunately, this echoes what the fruit farmers went through as well. For 3 years in a row, 2007-2010, we had no blooms on our Mop Hydrangeas in Kalamazoo. I stopped designing them in my designs, and was about to rip mine out, when we had a great display in 2011. I still hesitate to use them, they are just too unpredictable here. Best bet is to use them sparingly, and not in the most significant spot.
I like to use the bullet proof Knock Out Roses for my designs. These you can’t get it wrong. You can whack them back and they will come back beautiful. They make great hedges or loose shrubs, blooming all season. I usually cut them back as soon as the buds swell to about 12″. They are such vigorous growers, they’ll be up to 36″ by mid-July. If you like them taller, just don’t cut them back as far. They’re extremely versatile. Like other Roses, they do like to be fed. I start fertilizing them at the first pruning and keep it up monthly until July. I use 10-10-10 or 14-14-14. Besides the Knock Outs (they come in many colors now) there are the Oso Easy Roses. These are dependable as well, but stay much smaller and make great ground cover.
Hellebore are awake now. Last year’s foliage has collapsed in a heap on the ground. They seem to do better if left alone well into spring. The newly emerging flowers benefit from all that fluff. The transition from winter into spring can be a rocky journey. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing!