Warm weather! What you can– & can’t– do in your garden now

cut dead perennials in spring in Buffalo NY
Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Clean up your yard, but leave the mulch in place

When the forsythia is in bloom, that’s a good time to cut back your rose bushes and take the mulch off your garden beds, said  Dawn Trippie-Thompson, owner, with her husband Ken Thompson, of Thompson Brothers Greenhouses, 8850 Clarence Center Rd., Clarence Center.

That’s a rule of thumb she learned in horticulture coursework at Niagara County Community College. Forsythias usually bloom in late April or early May, so even the calendar tells us it’s still too early to do those gardening chores.

Note: Last year the forsythia wasn’t a good indicator of when to prune roses or remove mulch. The forsythia, like so many other plants, bloomed too early due to the unseasonably hot weather we got in March.

“It was a bizarre season,” Trippie-Thompson said. This spring is more typical, so the rule should apply.

The forsythia in my neighborhood isn’t blooming yet, so even though the sunshine and warmer temperatures we’ve been having makes me feel energetic, that means it’s still too early to rake the mulch off my garden beds yet. The mulch needs to stay in place to protect roots from a freeze.

“It could still go down to 18 degrees real easy,” Trippie-Thompson said.

With the rain we had last week, you will probably have to wait to dig in the garden, too, because the soil won’t be workable.

How do you know if the soil is workable? If you stick your shovel in the garden and you get a big, soggy mess, the soil isn’t workable. If the soil is dry enough that you can use a garden claw to loosen it and break it apart, it is workable, she explained. Alas, my soil isn’t workable yet.

If you try to dig when the soil is too wet, the soil will dry into big, hard clumps, she explained. (I didn’t believe this was a problem until I did it myself. Trippie-Thompson is right. It’s difficult to be patient, but it’s better for your garden to wait.)

We don’t have to waste this sunshine and warm weather, though. You can go outside and do general clean up, picking up sticks and trash and other debris. You can’t prune roses yet, but if there are broken stems on your roses, you could remove them, she said.

You may have left the stems of plants such as black-eyed Susans, ornamental grasses or succulents in your garden over the winter to feed the birds or just add interest. You can cut them back now. Cut them all the way down; new growth should already be appearing. (Those are succulents in the photo at the beginning of this article.)

However, don’t cut back butterfly bushes or any plant with a hollow stem now; wait until after the last frost, Trippie-Thompson said. Water can get into the hollow stem and if it freezes, that could damage the plant.

You can also mow your lawn now if the grass is long enough and dry enough.

Thompson Brothers officially opens on Friday, April 19, but the doors are already open for a preview week. You can get pots of pansies that you can place outside now, and if the weather turns cold, just bring them in. Perennials that they’ve grown are being brought out of the warm greenhouse and will be hardened off (acclimated to our cool spring weather) soon.



cold wave pansy from Mischler's in Williamsville NYPlant frost-tolerant annuals

We finally have crocuses and hyacinths and daffodils blooming, but there are more flowers that you can enjoy before Memorial Day.

Frost-tolerant annuals can take a mild frost, so if spring continues with its ups and downs (which is highly likely), you’ll still be safe.

You can learn more about frost-tolerant plants in a talk presented by Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 at the Eggertsville-Snyder Branch Library, 4622 Main St., Amherst.

Some of these plants can’t take a freeze, though, so if it gets down to about 24 degrees Fahrenheit, you might want to bring them in.

Frost-tolerant annuals will continue to bloom through summer and into fall– and survive the first mild frosts– so it extends your flowering season on both ends.

You can find a variety of frost-tolerant annuals at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, 118 South Forest Road, Williamsville.

The Cool Wave pansy, pictured above, is a frost-tolerant plant that trails and spreads. It will look lovely in hanging pots as well as planted in the landscape. It needs sun.

7 Comments on “Warm weather! What you can– & can’t– do in your garden now

  1. I discovered Thompson Brothers Greenhouse a couple of years ago when they sold plants at the N. Tonawanda Farmers Market. Dawn has beautiful plants at very reasonable prices. I highly recommend them. I drive out there now for some of my Hummingbird plants so I am glad to know when they will be opening for the season.

  2. Thanks for the tips! You mentioned cutting back butterfly bushes— Should these be trimmed back right after the danger of the last frost, and how far back should they be cut?

  3. Virginia,
    I cut my Butterfly bushes back after frost has past and when I see fresh new leaves emerging. I cut mine down to between 6-12 inches from the base of the plant. I also keep a tomato cage over one of mine since Butterfly Bushes tend to sprawl outward. Mine is in a flower bed so the tomato cage keeps the branches from sprawling out as much. Once it is leafed out you don’t even see the tomato cage.

  4. Virginia,
    We always recommend cutting back after last frost. Remove dead canes from last season, down to where you see the new growth. If you have any canes that are broken you may remove them at any time since they may cause more damage if they are ripped off from wind or a heavy late season snow. (Hope we are well past that- but it is Buffalo!) I am hoping to get into my garden in the next day or so to remove debris and tidy up, too! Dawn

  5. Thanks for the heads up NOT to prune hollow stemmed plants. This is helpful to know not only regarding my own butterfly bush that I love, but also the ones in the Niagara Hospice Memorial Gardens that I care for.

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