Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2011
Regional Report

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Unfortunately, these bulbs in snow are a common sight in the Midwest

Is Spring Being Shy?

It's certainly fun to start gardening as soon as possible in spring, but that enthusiasm gets dampened quickly when bad weather comes in and shuts us down. Which it always seems to do in the Midwest. April and May are notorious for freak snowstorms, torrential rains and drying west winds.

Use Caution When Exposing Plants
So, even though we do get those occasional bright, sunny warm days and it feel so good to get outdoors, use caution when uncovering and prepping plants. There will be time, and it will be consistently warm eventually. Keep in mind that plants under mulch have been pretty well protected as them begin to emerge.

Let Perennials Come When They're Ready
Many sources encourage gardeners to pull back the mulch to allow perennial crowns to be exposed to the sun and warmth. This certainly does give them an early start, but it can also cause damage when the bad weather comes. Why not wait? Let the plants come through the mulch on their own. They will do so at the right time, usually, and will have much less risk of damage. And, once the weather does warm, consider celebrating slow gardening the way I do by moving anything directly on top of the plant crowns that might hinder pushing through, and then simply snugging last year's foliage around the plants as mulch.

Remove Diseased Foliage
Use the time you are waiting to remove any diseased foliage from plants that were left standing over the winter. Mildewed phlox and bee balm should have leaves and stems removed. Peonies need to have all their leaves and stalks removed to avoid reinfecting with botrytis blight.

Uncover Roses at the Right Time
Roses should have their mounded mulch removed only after the last killing frost. Doing it before that time leaves the tender bases of the stems vulnerable to freeze-thaw action with can damage them permanently. Of course if you used rose cones, they should be removed earlier because of the risk of greenhousing the stems and damaging them by getting them too warm.

Prune Fruit Trees
These cold spring days are a fine time to do your pruning. Most trees are beginning to swell their buds, but they are still in a good phase to prune if necessary. You can even prune fruit trees if you didn't get to it earlier. And, before those buds break, you can also still spray dormant oil for pest control. However, if the buds are starting to open, be sure to change your oil dilution to active growth. And when the flowers emerge, don't spray anything to avoid harming bees.

Cut Down Ornamental Grasses
Make sure ornamental grasses have been cut down so that they will get an early start because research shows that leaving the old foliage in place can slow the grasses down by as much as six weeks. Nature takes her time, of course, and it certainly doesn't harm the grasses to leave up the old foliage. But I'm impatient-I want to see them sooner.

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