In the garden: Spring pruning, a garden debate and impatience for peonies

Roses that have not already been pruned can be allowed to flower and selectively trimmed back as the season progresses. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kim Christ)
Roses that have not already been pruned can be allowed to flower and selectively trimmed back as the season progresses. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kim Christ)

It's past time to prune

Q: With all the advice from you and others about being patient and waiting for plants to grow, I did the same thing with my roses. Now they are blooming and I never pruned them. Does this mean they aren't going to bloom as well and I can't prune until next year? I thought they had died back, but they are fully leafed out and big already.

A: You are not alone in this. I would enjoy the first set of flowers and then do some pruning. You may want to prune a little less than you normally would, but if you don't prune, you will have much larger plants and fewer blossoms. You also don't have to prune the entire plant at once but could do selected branches at different times, so you always have some flowers.

Let hydrangeas flourish by removing dead portions

Q: My hydrangeas have a lot of growth at the bottom but nothing has started at the top. Is it time for me to cut out the dead growth, or do I need to still wait?

A: Most big leaf hydrangeas had severe die-back and died to the soil line. They are growing back from the root system. It is time to remove the dead canes or branches, using care not to cut the new growth. You will see a few small blooms late in the season, if any this year, unless you are growing the reblooming varieties.

Weed or wildflower debate continues

Q: I have a ton of small white flowers in my lawn. I think they look pretty but my husband insists they are weeds. Who is right? Will they hurt my grass?

A: You know the saying, one man's weeds are another man's wildflowers. The small flowering plant in many lawns right now is spring beauty -- Claytonia. While it is a native wildflower, some lawn enthusiasts hate it. Since it is a spring ephemeral, and blooms early and then disappears, I let it grow in my lawn, and when the lawn is ready for the first mowing, it can be cut back and the grass comes up strong. It is a personal preference.

Finicky peony brings frustration

Q: I have some peonies that have never bloomed in my garden. They get big and bushy, but I have never seen any flower buds. Is there such a thing as a male peony, or do I need two plants to bloom?

A: Peonies can be a bit finicky about blooming. There is no such thing as a male peony, and they do not need another plant to cross-pollinate. They do need full sun (at least six hours a day) and they need to be planted shallowly. There are eyes on the root system and the eyes should be no deeper than one inch under ground. If they have plenty of sunlight, you might consider replanting them, making sure they are planted a bit more shallowly.

Corrective pruning needed for winter-damaged plants

Q: My azaleas have all started to grow again, and some have even bloomed like normal. The hardest hit plants have a lot of dead in the middle of the plant. Will that eventually fill back in with leaves? Will fertilizer help? If so, how often should I fertilize?

A: Many winter-damaged plants are starting to recover and fill in. If they were really damaged, some corrective pruning will be needed to help thicken them up. After bloom on your azaleas, consider cutting them back by a third with staggered heights to the cut branches. This should initiate dormant buds to sprout farther down on the stems and produce more foliage in the interior. Staggered heights will give you a fuller and more natural-looking plant than one that is sheared at one level. Fertilize lightly after flowering and then again in 4-6 weeks. Again, light applications that are watered in will work best.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email [email protected].

photo A peony garden puts on a show at Hot Springs in May 2010. (Sentinel-Record file photo/Mara Kuhn)
photo Spring beauties are ephemeral wildflowers that pop up in Arkansas yards in the spring and vanish by summer. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)
photo Azaleas with leafless interiors will not fill out on their own; they need to be pruned to restore thickness. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kim Christ)
photo Big-leaf hydrangeas that are growing back from the soil line will flower later than normal, if at all this year, unless they are a reblooming variety. (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

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