It’s mid-April and spring is busting out all over.
The big questions this week are about when to cut, what to cut and how to cut. Here are the answers about spring pruning:
Q. I have a giant rhododendron that is blocking the view from my window. It is in full bloom and I like it when it is in flower but it is blocking light most of the year. Can I prune it to just a few feet tall and will it still bloom? N.S., Tacoma
A. Perhaps you need to move it or lose it. Rhododendrons will survive a severe pruning but it often takes 2 to 3 years before they flower again and by that time they may have grown just as tall as they were before the hatchet job.
Rhododendrons with large leaves are programmed by nature to grow tall – like the size of small trees tall. The good news is that rhodies, azaleas and camellias have compact root systems and can be moved or transplanted to a larger space. The best time to prune any rhodo or azaleas is immediately after the plant is done flowering.
The best time to move or transplant a very large shrub is when it is dormant in early spring.
Q. How tall can I let the grass grow before I must mow? I am going for a meadow look but my neighbors are hinting that I need to mow the lawn. I live in the city with a small front yard but I would like to encourage wild flowers. Anon, email
A. Your field goals may be different than your neighbors, but your field of dreams can become the neighborhood nightmare if you ignore the lawn mower.
Front yards in urban neighborhoods and other small spaces are not places to go natural with the lawn as you will be growing more weeds than wild flowers. For a healthy lawn you need to mow when the grass blades are three inches tall, cutting off the top one-third of the grass.
A better option for a no-mow front yard is to replace the turf with raised beds for edibles or groundcovers, or add pathways set between mounded planting beds of trees, shrubs and groundcovers.
Q. I have some shrubs, some vines and a climbing rose that all need pruning because I can hardly walk down my garden pathways anymore. What is the best time to prune? I hate cutting off branches with new leaf growth! K.L., Kent
A. The best time to prune any plant is when the shears are sharp. This means do not delay pruning overgrown plants by using the excuse that it is the wrong time of year.
Make your cuts close to a joint or where a branch joins up with a trunk, remove crossing or inward facing growth to thin out the center of plants and always remove anything dead, diseased or damaged.
Now stop being so hesitant and thoughtful and just get snippy with your overgrown plants. People before plants – if a branch is blocking a pathway – off with it’s head.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from WSU, is the author of a dozen garden books and the host of Dig In Seattle, a TV show about gardening and cooking. She can be reached at www.binettigarden.com