Garden Q&A

Wait to prune spring plants until after flowers bloom

For The Baltimore Sun
Ready to trim your spring plants? Make sure the flowers have bloomed, first.

The landscapers where I live just cut back all the bushes. Is this correct at this time of the year? Some of them had tiny buds on them.

If the buds were leaf buds, that's OK. The remaining wood will produce new leaf buds and leaves.

If they were flower buds, that's different. Shrubs should be pruned based on their growth habit and flowering. In general, summer-blooming plants are pruned in the spring because they haven't formed their flower buds yet. So summer flowers are not lost.

Spring-blooming plants, on the other hand, are usually pruned after they bloom. Spring pruning cuts off many flower buds, and those flowers will be lost. However, any flower buds on the remaining part of the plant can still bloom.

When is it safe to remove mulch piled on my roses and new perennials?

Mulch is applied in fall to tender plants to protect them from cold injury, heaving and premature growth when we have an early spring thaw (no problem this year). When the soil warms up and new growth starts in spring, mulch must be pulled back. Otherwise, new growth under mulch can stay too wet and rot, or pale growth suddenly exposed to full sun can get sunburn. If a severe late frost is predicted, cover tender plants, but most roses and perennials can take light frost even on new growth. (For plants in general, never pile on bark mulch. Keep it back a few inches from stems and trunks.) There is no magic date; go by the weather and the forecast.

Plant of the week

Sweet marjoram

Origanum majorana

No cook should be without this culinary herb. Aromatic with a mild oregano flavor, fresh or dried leaves are a hit in Italian foods, soups, egg dishes, stews, vinegars and with vegetables. Growing about 15 inches tall, the sprawling stems sport soft gray-green leaves and tiny pink-white flowers. Plant marjoram in vegetable gardens, containers or ornamental beds. Seeds or cuttings grow slowly, so you may want to purchase transplants. After all danger of frost, plant in full sun and well-drained soil. Harvest leaves throughout the season, but flavor is best before flowering. Root some cuttings in midsummer or divide and pot up in fall to enjoy this tender perennial indoors all winter. Stems and leaves also add color and fragrance to wreaths, potpourri and sachets.

—Marian Hengemihle

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