Veggies, Flowers: Time to Plant in the Hamptons!

The calendar says spring is here and though the weather says otherwise, I’m back in the gardens in anticipation and preparation for its arrival.

This past week we were working at a house with a large waterfront exposure. The bays and oceans remind me of the plains as they are the visual flat places here. There I was facing the ocean flatness, the cold spring wind and sun on my face. I was here on The East End but a part of me was on the plains of Nebraska where spring winds and light intensity are a more significant indication of spring than budding trees and shrubs. There are just not that many trees and shrubs there!

The trees and shrubs at the house on the water, however, were abundant and I left the meditation of my life on the plains and attended to the work at hand. Many ornamental grasses needed to be cut down. We use a power hedge trimmer to do a neat and quick job. Unlike last year at this time, there was no new growth yet…evidence of a colder and later spring. The buds on the macrophylla and lacecap hydrangeas did well in the winter and are fat. We removed the dead branches and shaped the shrubs as needed. The paniculata types…PGs and tardivas…got an overall pruning and reduction in size. We removed deadwood in the Annabells and reduced them by two thirds.

I look forward to rose pruning in the spring knowing that they will be off to a good start. Each type needs a somewhat different approach but the basics are the same: First remove the dead branches. Then remove the tiny branches and any that grow toward the center of the bush. Thin out some smaller branches so there’s good air circulation. Reduce the size by about two thirds. Always cut to just above an outward-facing bud. Rugosa roses sucker, so in addition to these steps, I remove all of the suckers. Some diligent research on rose pruning is reassuring and rewarding. The same basic procedures are followed when pruning any tree and shrub. Each situation may require additional steps given the plant and its circumstances.

We cut liriope bordering the sidewalks down close to the ground. This removes the tattered winter leaves and insures glossy ones for the summer. We cut back caryopteris and perovskia to force abundant new branches. We went into the shrub borders and removed interfering branches giving the shrubs room and air. I remove deadwood from Japanese maples and prune them to accentuate their splendid shapes.

Finally, when all of the pruning and cutting back is done, we will rake out the beds. Some gardeners blow the beds to clean them but I don’t like those blowers! They “clean” the beds but they also blow away last year’s compost and some topsoil, expose weed seeds and put a lot of debris and soil into the air. So our beds do not look as clean as my mother’s carpet but when the new compost goes down, those bits of plant material will not be seen.

In the vegetable garden we removed weeds, and applied worm castings. I do not rototill or turn over soil at any time. Amendments like compost, fertilizer, castings, lime etc. go onto the surface and get worked into the soil as we plant, with rain and by the soil “critters.” This week we’ll plant peas and fava beans followed next week by lettuce, onions and leeks and shortly after that by carrots, beets, chard, and kale. I don’t grow spinach, if you do, now is the time to plant it.

I hope to find time this year to work on my own poor garden. A tree fell down during Superstorm Sandy and a lilac branch is lying on the ground…it has buds, though, so I may wait to cut it until it blooms! The camellias are so tall that they’re leaning over. All of the hydrangeas need pruning. I need irrigation and new fencing. Whew! There’s a lot of work to do!

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening advice call 631-434-5067.

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