The vernal equinox is really more significant for meteorologists than it is for gardeners. Some plants respond to changes in day length, of course, but they don’t perform differently merely because days and nights are equal in duration.
Still, the vernal equinox (March 19, 2016) is a useful marker for the change from winter to spring.
As the world experiences climate change, scientists who study the seasons (phenologists) are generating more interesting reports about bud break, flower opening, insect emergence, animal migrations and other seasonal phenomena.
We are already witnessing changes in our gardens: for example, my lilacs are blooming earlier than they have in previous years. Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) typically require a significant chill during the winter months, but decades ago, Walter Lammerts, working at a southern California nursery now known as Descano Gardens, developed three low-chill lilac hybrids: ‘Lavender Lady’, ‘California Rose’ and ‘Angel White’ (pictured). Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area and similar climates can grow Descanso hybrid lilacs and enjoy their fragrance.
At the same time, my salvias are fading noticeably, earlier than I usually see.
These two garden favorites have markedly different pruning requirements. The lilacs bloom on new wood, so they should be pruned soon after the blossoms fade, before new buds form. This work should be done before June.
Another important maintenance issue for lilacs manages their strong desire to spread through underground runners. When allowed to roam for a few years, a healthy lilac will form a thicket. This may be desirable, depending on the shrub’s location within the garden, but containment might be appropriate. Accomplish this by the straightforward approach of excavating and cutting off the runner that has created the unwanted new growth.
By contrast, salvias can be cut back to about six inches above the ground in early spring, as new growth appears at the plant’s base. Such renewal pruning cleans away the old growth and stimulates vigorous new growth on these garden standbys. The right time for this work will occur in about one month. It is OK to prune earlier before the new growth is evident, but the ideal timing will shorten the least decorative period for your salvias.
A friend, busy with other priorities, saw the traditional season for rose pruning come and go this year, and now asks if she should prune her roses late, or let them go until next year.
The general rule for roses is to prune during the winter months, when the plants are dormant. Still, the popular repeat-blooming hybrid tea roses should be cut back as blossoms fade during the summer months. According to David Austin Roses, this approach will stimulate blossoming and support maintenance of a desirable rounded shape for the plant.
If a missed winter pruning has allowed a rose to compromise its overall shape, the gardener’s strategy should include summer pruning, cutting back stems after blooms fade with shaping the plant in mind, as well as encouraging new growth.
Pruning can be a challenging task for the gardener because of differences in best practices for individual genera. A good pruning book can help to reduce uncertainty, put the gardener in control and make the process easier and ultimately creative.
Enjoy your garden and keep your pruning shears clean and sharp.
Send pruning questions to Tom Karwin