You want great flowers on your hydrangeas, but pruning to achieve that can be a bit confusing. It's important to know the type of hydrangea you have. Varieties of Hydrangea arborescens, or smooth hydrangea, and Hydrangea paniculata, bloom on new wood, so they can be cut back as much as you'd like in spring, usually to one to three feet. Hydrangea macrophylla, or bigleaf hydrangea, and Hydrangea quercifolia, or oakleaf hydrangea, normally bloom on last year's growth, so they should be pruned immediately after flowering. Some gardeners like to leave the flowers on all winter, then remove them in the spring. However, the newer reblooming varieties of bigleaf hydrangea also bloom on the current season's growth. If the old growth of these died overwinter, then remove these stems.
Start Your Sweet Potato Transplants
Sweet potatoes are considered a superfood because of their high vitamin A and other nutritional content. These underground tubers can be easily grown in the garden if you have space for the rampant vines. Although the transplants, also known as slips, can be bought at garden centers or by mail-order, you can start your own. Be aware, though, that if you use a sweet potato bought at a grocery store, it may have been treated to inhibit sprouting. For those adventurous enough to try, choose a firm, solid sweet potato, find the stem end, and stick three toothpicks equidistant around the middle. Set the potato in a glass jar filled with water and place in bright light. In about a week, roots and sprouts will begin to form. When the sprouts are 5 to 6 inches long, break them off as close to the potato as possible and place in another jar of water. When roots have formed, these can be potted and grown until all danger of frost is past, or, if the timing is right, planted directly into the garden.
Buy More Pansies
Sure, pansies have been available at garden centers in our Upper South region for weeks now, so many of you have probably already bought and planted some. And, yes, warmer weather comes on fast for us, and pansies grow best in the cooler weather of spring. But don't overlook areas in your garden where at least a few more months of color would bring you pleasure, especially since it's still too early to plant annuals that would be killed by frost, what with the last frost date still a month or more away. Be sure to add some pansies to containers, too. Or, transplant some to small pots, nestle several in a basket, and surround with moss for a gift. For pansies that will continue blooming well into summer, look for varieties like Panola, the Rain series, the Dynamite series, Crystal Bowl Purple, Nature Orange, Delta Premium Pure White, and Del Premium Pure Primrose. The best violas for summer heat include Sorbet Blue Heaven, Gem Pink Shades, and Gem Antique Lavender.
Prune, Feed, and Plant Roses
Many gardeners in the Upper South start pruning roses by mid-March, but don't worry if you've missed that deadline, just do it as soon as you can. Because there are so many different types of roses, with some requiring specialized pruning, it's a good idea to research books or websites for detailed information. Generally, however, you want to remove dead, damaged, or diseased canes. While pruning, also shape the plants, being sure to open them up to allow good light and air penetration, and always prune to an outward-facing bud. It's also time to start a monthly feeding program for your roses, continuing through July. There are a number of products available specifically for roses. After fertilizing, apply an organic mulch. Choose the one you prefer and follow manufacturer's directions. Garden centers and nurseries have both bare-root and container-grown roses available for planting now. Bare-root roses should be planted as soon as possible before weather gets any hotter. Prepare the soil well, mixing in compost or composted manure.
Visit Garden Centers Often
This is a fantastic time of year for shoppers, what with trees, shrubs, flowers, and edible plants offered at a wide range of stores. Nurseries and garden centers get frequent shipments now, so it makes sense to visit your favorite places at least every other week to see what's new. Be sure to read plant tags to determine if the plant will fit, size- and condition-wise, in your garden. If you're still not sure, write down the plant name, then come home and check garden books or do a web search to learn more about it. Don't be afraid to try new or unfamiliar plants. Let them stretch your gardening experiences.