Pruning Your Roses in Spring

Pruning Roses in Spring

Pruning Roses in Spring

Roses leafed out, rose care

Roses leafing out after pruning

 There is so much to learn about taking care of roses.

Too much for me to mention here, but I will tell you some of the basics for pruning roses in the spring. Here in the Boston area, the best time to prune roses is after the final frost which is usually in middle to late April. (Or, prune when the forsythia blooms) NOTE: Old once-blooming roses produce flowers on old wood, so do not prune them until after they have flowered.

Why Prune:

To remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood; increase air circulation; keep the shrub from becoming a snarled mess; shape the shrub; and encourage good flowering.

Pruning Steps:

1. Always prune roses with a clean, sterilized, sharp bladed hand pruner. If there are
any thick limbs/branches use a pruning lopper. To clean these tools, use rubbing
alcohol, bleach, vinegar, or soap and hot water.

2. Prune from the ground up, not from the top of the branches down. And make the
pruning cut at a 45-degree angle, which will allow natural sap to rise and seal the cut.

3. Cut the dead canes (will look dry and brown) back to green wood or close to the bud
union (a swelling at the bottom of the plant where the canes join the roots). Also prune
out damaged or diseased branches. This will help you see the shape of the shrub
without distraction.

4. Thin out some of the interior and crossing branches in the center of the shrub to
allow for improved air circulation, and to promote new growth.

5. To sustain this year’s growth, leave 6 to 8 of the strongest, healthy green canes.
Floribundas and shrub roses have more branches than other types of roses,
so don’t cut as much of these back.

6. Then, reduce the overall height of the shrub by pruning to 18 to 24 inches.

7. When you have finished pruning your rose bush, clean up the debris left underneath.
Throw out any foliage from the cut canes, and don’t put it in with your compost.

Garden tasks for March

Spring bulbs

Ha! Too much snow in New England this second day in March to begin any of the tasks I’ve listed in this blog post.

However, if you want to know the weather in New England, wait five minutes. Or, wait a couple of weeks and hopefully, the snow will have melted and the Hellebore’s and spring bulbs will be able to poke up through the ground.

• Pots used for planting need to be free of mold and fungus. If you didn’t clean your pots in the fall, soak and sterilize them for 10 minutes in 1 part bleach mixed into 9 parts water. Scrub them inside and out until they are clean, and then rinse them thoroughly with water.

• Gardening tools that haven’t been cleaned can be washed and sterilized with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol. And oiled with WD-40.

• Sharpen your pruning tools, shovel blades, garden bed edger’s and mower blades with a # 10 mill bastard file, or take them to a professional tool sharpener. You can purchase the metal file from your local hardware store or woodworking shop.

• Get your lawn mower and other garden equipment tuned-up.

• Fertilize shrubs and trees with organic fertilizer. Use Holly Tone for acidic loving plants, Plant Tone for alkaline loving plants and Rose Tone for roses.

• Remove winter mulch when the soil has thawed from winter cold. Apply, and dig in a two to three inch layer of compost to your perennial and shrub garden beds to amend the soil.

• Schedule appointments for professional lawn and garden services for spring garden clean ups.

• Join a garden club or take a gardening class to get new ideas and meet other gardeners.

Preventing Snow Damage to Shrubs

Snow damage to shrubs in inter

Recently, someone told me that last summer she planted a small evergreen shrub in her little front yard and was concerned about possible shrub damage from shoveling snow from the sidewalk onto the yard. She said that this was the only place she could put the snow, and wanted to know how to protect the shrub.

During the winter, snow acting much like mulch, provides a protective shield for plants and shrubs, keeping the ground at an even temperature. But two or more feet of snow piled on top of the shrub can break some of its branches or crush the plant. Damage such as this can weaken the hardiness of the shrub. New transplants with late season growth are very susceptible. There will be less leaf cover in the spring, reducing the carbohydrates available to the roots. And, branch breakage wounds can be victim to insects, decay and fungi.

Before a heavy snow, prop pine branches or Christmas tree greens over or leaning against the shrub to catch the snow. You can also build a barrier or screen of burlap or similar material around and over the shrub for protection. Both methods require some openings to allow access for light and air.

If heavy deep snow has caught you by surprise before you’ve had a chance to protect the shrub, do not shovel out the snow now or you may injure the evergreen. Just, let the snow melt naturally, and hopefully the snow will have protected rather than damaged it.

TAGS – snow plant damage, shrubs in winter, burlap snow screens, winter damage to shrubs

Berry Bearing Shrubs for the Winter Garden

There are many shrubs and trees whose berries last through late fall and into the winter, adding color to the dull, brown and dreary landscape. Some of the berries will get eaten as they do provide food for birds and wildlife. Below, I‘ve listed some berry bearing shrubs that do well in zones 5 and 6.


Winterberry shrub

– American beautyberry, Callicarpa Americana (full sun) a deciduous shrub, produces small pink/lavender flowers in spring. Beginning in October, the beautyberry produces violet to magenta colored berries that grow in clusters along the branches and usually last through November.

– Spiceberry, Ardisia crenata (part sun to light shade) produces many long-lasting, bright red to scarlet berries that stand out against its evergreen leaves in fall and early winter.

– Black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa (full sun or partial shade) bears clusters of pale pink flowers in early summer. Deep purple, almost-black, tart and bitter berries form in late summer and last through January on this deciduous shrub.

– American Holly Ilex opaca, (sun to part shade) bears red berries that remain all winter amongst the evergreen dark- glossy leaves.

– American Cranberrybush, Viburnum trilobum (partial to full sun) a deciduous shrub, has clusters of white flowers in the spring. The berries are red or yellow and hang on the branches all winter.

– Cranberry Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster apiculatus (partial to full sun) an evergreen shrubby groundcover bears tiny pink flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall that last through the winter.





Garden Tasks to Take Care of in November

using salt marsh hay as mulch

Using salt marsh hay as winter mulch.

Here are some garden tasks to take care of before the ground freezes:

• Continue to water shrubs and small trees, particularly evergreens, until the ground freezes. You may have to use a watering can with water from indoors as you’ll need to disconnect your water hoses from outside spigots before temperatures reach freezing. Drain out the water from all hoses, roll up them up and store them in a dry location such as a garden shed, garage, or basement. Turn off the water to outside spigots.

• If your garden beds need to be mulched, wait until the ground freezes to do so. Application of tree bark mulch at this time helps keep the soil at an even frozen temperature, and helps keep the ground from heaving. Put down three inches of mulch. Salt marsh hay is also a great mulch to be used for tender shrubs and perennials. You can purchase the hay at many garden centers, but do this before the end of October, or the hay may have sold out.

• Wrap burlap around your evergreens and hydrangeas to shield the shrubs from strong cold winds and snow. Burlap will also protect evergreens planted near roads that will be salt sprayed by plows. Also, stuff healthy fallen leaves (not diseased leaves) between the hydrangea branches for more protection. The winter of 2014 was so harsh, that many hydrangeas did not bloom this year.

• Tie Rose canes together and secure them to their supports to avoid winter wind damage. And mound one foot of soil or compost around the base of rose bushes to shield the bud union from winter harm.

• Clean all garden tools: scrape off excess dirt, wipe the tool down with an old cloth or a wire brush if needed, and let it dry. Rub off any rust with oil or steel wool. Tools with a sharp metal part should be sharpened with a special sharpening tool. Then use a lubrication oil spray on metal parts to protect from rust.

Planting garlic in the fall

In New England, the time to plant garlic is from the middle to the end of October. Now is the time to order garlic bulbs for planting, so contact Johnny’s Seeds ( or Fedco Seeds ( in Maine.


Once you receive the bulbs, break them into individual cloves and plant them in composted soil 5 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Towards the end of November, cover the area with about 4 inches of mulch. Remove the mulch in spring. ‘Chive like greens’ should be poking up from the ground. Put down an inch of compost and keep the soil moist.

In late July or early August when you see that the lowest two or three leaves are no longer dark green, dig up the bulbs carefully. Dry them in a shady spot for a week. Then cut off the leaves, clean off any soil still on the bulbs, and your garlic is ready to use in cooking!


TAGS: Gardening in Somerville, planting garlic, Sun and Shade, harvesting garlic

Mosquito Larvae and Standing Water

Mosquito dunk and mosquitos in standing water


Mosquitoes lay there eggs on the surface of standing water and stick around while the eggs develop. The mosquito larvae will hatch in about a week. If you’ve an area of soil that doesn’t drain well and retains water, mosquitoes will lay their eggs there also. Other mosquito breeding grounds include long standing water-filled rain barrels, bird baths, containers, tubs, flower pot trays, vases, old tires, clogged roof gutters, sewer drains, streams, ponds, and vernal pools.

To decrease the mosquito population, and lessen the chance of West Nile Virus spreading, be sure not to let water stand for more than a couple of days in any of the above mentioned areas. Mosquito Dunks are effective in killing mosquito larvae for 30 days when added to standing water. The dunks which are formed in the shape of small donuts consist of bacteria known as Bti israeliensis. Mosquito Dunks only kill mosquito and black fly larvae, which die within 24 hours of ingestion. Mosquito dunks will not harm people, pets, wildlife or fish.

You can buy Mosquito Dunks at local garden centers. Bti israeliensis also comes in a granule (grits) form, but the donuts are more readily available. Dunks can be broken up easily into smaller pieces or crushed to a granule consistency. One dunk is effective in up to 100 square feet of water.

A Bulbs Life Span

Spring blooming Tulips

An acquaintance recently mentioned to me that there were many crocuses blooming in her garden when she first bought her house 5 years ago.. Since then even more crocuses bloom every spring. The tulips she planted bloomed the first two years but only produced foliage and two small blooms the next year.

Why do some bulbs bloom every year while others are short-lived?

Although tulips are considered perennials, many gardeners, including myself, find that some tulip bulbs are short-lived, often flowering for only a couple of years. Bulbs that are ‘breeded-in’ for new color, size and larger flowers tend to do this. Breeders have pretty much left Botanical or Species tulips, which are smaller than hybrid varieties, alone. Darwin hybrids, Emperor Tulips and Kaufmanniana tulips come up year after year.

Some other species bulbs that come back year after year and can multiply are crocuses, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, and squill (Scilla). Other bulbs like Daffodils, will multiply and form dense clumps if you dig them up and divide the bulbs after they flower. Replant these bulbs right away or store until fall.

To ensure that your bulbs stay healthy and long lasting, plant them in a sunny location where the soil is well-drained. If the soil gets too wet, the bulbs will rot. If you need to increase drainage, add compost, peat moss or coir (product from coconut husks that acts like peat moss) to the soil.

Garden Tasks for Early to Mid-March

sharpening garden tools

Even though snow covers your garden beds, there are some garden related tasks that can be taken care of during early March.

• If you haven’t cleaned your outdoor planters, scrub and sterilize them now with a solution of 1 part bleach mixed with 9 parts water. Then rinse them thoroughly with clean water.

• Gardening tools that haven’t been cleaned can be washed and sterilized with this bleach/water solution, or with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

• Get your pruning tools, spades, garden bed edger and mower blades sharpened if needed.

• Get your lawn mower and other garden equipment tuned-up.

• Draw up a plan for your vegetable garden so that this year’s crops will be rotated and not planted in the same place as last year.

• Contact gardening and lawn care professionals to get scheduled into their calendar as spring is a busy season for them.

• Join a garden club or take a gardening class to get new ideas and meet other gardeners.

Live Christmas Trees and How to Care for Them

Live Christmas tree
Are you planning on using a live evergreen tree indoors for decorating?

Here are some tips on the use and care of them:

Live evergreen trees that will survive in zones 4-6 are Dwarf Alberta Spruces, Blue Spruce, Yews, and Arborvitaes. Pick a healthy tree that matures to a size appropriate for your yard. The root-ball should be firm and rounded. Before the ground freezes dig a hole for the tree as deep as its root-ball and twice as wide and fill it with straw or leaves. Bag up the soil and bring it inside to a basement or back hallway so it doesn’t freeze.

To transition the tree from the outdoors to a warmer location, put it in a garage or unheated porch for a couple of days. Then, display the tree indoors in a room as cool as possible. Keep the root-ball evenly moist but not soggy, by placing the tree in a container with sand or gravel at the bottom for good drainage. Water the tree as needed. Turn the tree’s decorative lights on only when you are in the room.

And, you can plant your Christmas tree outside after the holidays. Put the tree in the garage or porch for a few days before you plant in your yard so it won’t be shocked by moving it from the heated indoors to the freezing outdoors. Then remove the materials that were used to fasten the roots, loosen the roots a bit, and plant the tree in the prepared hole. Back fill the hole with the original bagged soil, packing it down. Put a six inch layer of mulch around the tree, leaving a few inches of bare ground circling the trunk. In the spring, fertilize the tree with Holly Tone and water well the first year.