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Adventures in Gardening: A new 'to do list'

By Suzanne Leonard
Weather Broadcaster
Friday, May 10, 2013, 11:42 AM

Spring weather has really accelerated across the country in the last week. In fact, temperatures in both eastern and western Canada hit the mid-20s and even the 30s - more ‘summer’ than ‘spring’! But with more seasonal temperatures returning remember there’s still the risk of frost this time of year. So if you’re planting already, be ready to protect annuals and tender perennials. May is arguably the busiest month for gardeners - I like to think of planting as a *final reward* for all my hard work. That includes pruning. 

Have a look at this video:

  • Use sharp hand pruners. 
  • Make a clean cut right above a bud or stem. 
  • Cut plant down to 6"/15 cm. 
  • Cut out damaged, diseased and crowding branches as you go. 
  • Use loppers to cut thicker stems. 
  • Use this approach for all woody perennials (Buddleia/Butterfly Bush, Lavender, Perovskia etc).

In my garden: Trillium

In my garden: Trillium

More on pruning 

Much has been written about pruning but the main motivations remain - size, health and looks. Like all perennials, the woody variety has requirements that vary from plant to plant. For example, Buddleia are generally pruned to control size (so they don’t get ‘leggy’,) whereas hydrangea are generally pruned to improve appearance, and so on. A quick online search or chat with your local nursery will confirm the specific needs of your particular plant. Regardless of plant type, these things are consistent - the need for clean, sharp cuts right above a bud or stem and the need to cut out damaged, diseased or crowding branches as you go.

In my garden: Scilla Siberica (Siberian Squill)

In my garden: Scilla Siberica (Siberian Squill)

The finished shape after pruning should allow for good air circulation within the plant as it fills in. This is particularly important with plants like roses - they get fussy if you don’t treat them right and that’s when disease like blackspot fungus, mildew or rust shows up. I come from a long line of Leonard gardeners. My Dad has the knack for nurturing beautiful rose bushes, while I readily admit it’s a struggle to keep my two rose bushes disease-free and bloom-full throughout the season. I’ve lost the fight more than once and have had to replace them both! Yet I prune, fertilize and stay vigilant for signs of disease- and remain hopeful.

In my garden: Roses of Sharon

In my garden: Roses of Sharon


Some gardeners wince at the mere idea of pruning while others are ruthless. At times cautious, I am generally more the latter – with failures and triumphs to show for it. On an ‘up’ note, my Roses of Sharon were rapidly growing to out-of-control heights, so the fall before last I took drastic measures. Conventional wisdom is to prune out no more than one third, which includes height and width combined. I took out slightly more than half (!) and waited for spring. Come the following season, they were bare and very slow to bud but later produced a beautiful display of blooms. My pruning adventure paid off. The picture here shows my three Roses of Sharon currently - an open, airy ‘structure’ ready to fill in. So if you have a plant or shrub that needs drastic measures, take heart!! You may miss a bloom cycle, but they usually come back and are healthier for it.

In my garden: freshly edged bed

In my garden: freshly edged bed

Spring 'to do list:'  

  • Continue pruning as appropriate for each plant.
  • Take care to avoid pruning spring bloomers (eg, lilac). 
  • Take a sharp edged shovel and ‘cut’ a neat edge along the edge of all flower beds (see photo). 
  • Tip: edging beds with curved lines look softer, more informal and natural in a garden. 
  • Aerate, fertilize and apply grass seed (‘overseed’ for healthy turf) to lawns.
  • Helpful hint: apply fertilizer before a good rain - that helps take it down to the roots. 
  • Keep on top of removing weeds before they take off on a growth spurt (it happens quickly). 
  • Watch the forecast for frost - protect plants as necessary. 
  • Enjoy all the new discoveries that are bursting forth every day in your garden. The Trillium above greeted me just this week - one day there was nothing, the next day there it was. That’s the joy of spring.

Favourite Weather Network viewer photo

This comes from Chris Parlow in New Westminster, BC. Forget-me-nots paired with brilliant blue pansies that have a gorgeous ‘pop’ in this shady spot. If you love blue, Scilla (in my picture above,) Grape Hyacinth and Columbine are lovely in the spring garden. Hydrangea, Love-in-a-Mist and Salvia are among the summer bloomer options.

I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions. You can add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Be sure to also join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast.

It’s May in Canada and the outdoors is beckoning, what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!

"Genius will live and thrive without training, but it does not the less reward the watering-pot and pruning-knife." ― Margaret Fuller 

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