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Those days in the 70s gave us hope that spring would be early this year, but this week’s temperature nosedive has felt like Old Man Winter is delivering a last one-two punch. I’ve always maintained that gardeners are the most optimistic folks on earth and, no matter what the weather is like, will be making their lists and checking them twice. When the outdoor chores that you are itching to complete conflict with the forecast, it may be hard to know what you can do.

We’ve had some very nice weather this month, but don’t be too eager to remove shrubs and woody perennials that aren’t showing signs of growth yet. Many like Caryopteris, Rose of Sharon, Hydrangea and Weigela are slow to bud out in the spring. If the twigs on your plants are still flexible and the tissue just under the bark is bright green, please give them until mid June.

So far it’s been a spectacular year for magnolias. But the last couple of cold nights may turned all of those pristine white blossoms into brown lawn litter. Don’t despair though. Redbuds, Serviceberries and Crabapples will be ready soon to take their turn on the spring stage. The long range forecasts are predicting a moderate rise in temperatures. Wait to prune any spring flowering trees and shrubs like Lilacs and Azaleas until after the blossoms are completely spent. This will give your plants plenty of time to produce flower buds for next year.

It is also past the time to do any dormant pruning on Oaks or fruit trees. And you’ll want to wait to trim your evergreens until late June or early July. It isn’t necessary to treat pruning cuts, but if you are removing diseased branches, be sure to clean your pruning tools with Lysol spray or a 10% rubbing alcohol solution between each and every cut. This will prevent fungus and bacteria from moving to a healthy branch from a diseased one.

When planting trees and shrubs, pay particular attention to the depth of the planting hole. Improper planting depth is one of the top five reasons that plants fail. Dig the hole so that the depth equals the height of the rootball. This holds true for balled and burlapped trees and shrubs, as well as any container grown material. Don’t make the hole deeper as the rootballs, especially heavy ones, should sit on undisturbed soil. Use that saved energy to dig your holes wider instead.

Another reason that plants fail to establish is improper watering, both over and under. Establishing plants need about an inch of water per week, but some soils drain more slowly than others. At this time of year, check your soil every week. If the top 2 or 3 inches are dry, water the root zone slowly and deeply. Later in the summer, when the weather is really hot, you will need to check more often.

But the number one reason that plants fail is inappropriate site selection. As eager gardeners stretch the hardiness envelope further and further, as the climate changes, and as we become more adventurous in our choices, we run the risk of losing those very special plants. Give these more exotic trees and shrubs a fighting chance by placing them in locations that are appropriate to their needs. Many of us in the Garden Center are as avid plant geeks as you and we’re always happy to share our experiences.

On a final note, we’d like to remind you to contact Diggers Hotline whenever planting any rootball larger than 6 to 8 inches. The phone number is 800-242-8511. They also have an extremely easy-to-use on-line locator at www.diggershotline.com. This procedure is so simple to follow and it’s better to be safe than sorry.