Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
April, 2006
Regional Report

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My first container planting of the season features Viola 'Etian', French lavender, Veronica 'Georgia Blue', and golden Acorus 'Ogon'.

Spring Delights

Gorgeous, glorious spring is arriving in southeastern Pennsylvania. Cool nights are giving way to warm, sunny days -- ideal for restful sleeping after a busy day spring cleaning the garden. And tidying the yard. The soft, sweet scent of a white-flowering star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) along the front hill path caught me by surprise. I was marveling at the handful of yellow daffodils hastily planted last November, but my nose directed my attention upward to the sprawling, gray-barked Magnolia with large-petaled, star-like blossoms.

This is my first spring at this cottage in Wayne, PA, a northwest suburb of Philadelphia. So there'll be many discoveries.

Invasives in Paradise
On the "troublesome" list is the overabundance of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), an invasive ground cover with bright yellow flowers and deeply lobed, green leaves. It completely covers front and rear yards, sprouting through the bricked work area and between pots of perennials and shrubs. If uncontrolled, the flower seeds will populate the container plants destined for client gardens, making me complicit in spreading this Eurasian import elsewhere. How to eliminate this invasive without using a toxic herbicide?

In Sunday's sunshine, I experimented by spraying the leaves with full-strength horticultural (20 percent) vinegar with yucca extract as a sticky substance so the vinegar doesn't drip off. The plants wilted somewhat. If need be, I'll spray again in the hot sun. Even if the horticultural vinegar doesn't kill the celandine outright, I'll be satisfied if it stops them from blooming.

Container Plants
Though most potted perennials and shrubs survived the winter, sadly my 3-year-old rosemary did not. Its dried leaves will undoubtedly flavor numerous helpings of lamp chops, roasted potatoes, and grilled veggies, though. Its square Campania polystyrene pot is now home to plants leftover from my presentation about organic container gardening at the Philadelphia Flower Show: lovely purple-edged, white-yellow pansy (Viola 'Etian'), gold and green Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', Veronica pedundularis 'Georgia Blue', French lavender (Lavendula dentata), and purple Oxalis triangularis. Recycling at its best.

Spurred by the week's warmth, I moved indoor plants outdoors -- tender herbs, scented geraniums, tropicals, annual flowering geraniums. In threat of frost, I'll cover them with Reemay fabric or bring them back inside.

My impulse was to cluster the more attractive survivors by the portico. The 3-1/2-foot bay leaf shrub is a tall, dark green contrast to the white porch column. The viola, acorus, veronica and lavender-filled container sits prettily front and center. The fluffy, light green marjoram is a delicious accent within easy reach of the herb scissors.

Early Spring Garden Grooming
In residential gardens, we're removing debris, raking out dead stalks and foliage fragments, and cutting back brown, dead perennial stems when the green, basal leaves sprout. If there are no signs of visible leaves, I don't remove the brown stalks; they'll remind me to check again for leaves in a few weeks.

Organic Matter + Microbes + Water = Healthy Plants
With impending spring and summer growth, it's time to apply a slow-release, granular, organic fertilizer. In healthy soil, microbes slowly break down a mineral-rich fertilizer over many months. Rain and watering will dissolve these nutrients, and the plant's roots will absorb them to use in food production.

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