It's National Gardening Month, Trim Then Sweeten


Courtesy of Down to Earth Living in Pomona 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, April is National Gardening Month. Many people await the arrival of spring specifically so they can begin to work in their gardens. One of the first tasks is to see what might need pruning.

Just like gardeners need to get their tools and supplies ready for the spring growing season, so should they take stock of which plants need to be cut back. Pruning in spring is a great opportunity to cut out dead, diseased or dying stems, and to reshape shrubs that have gotten overgrown and unwieldy. A good “haircut” also makes way for new growth and helps to encourage more flowers, foliage and colorful stems on a wide range of plants.

Plants that flower on the same year’s growth such as lavender, fuchsias, buddleia and ornamental grasses can be pruned almost to ground level before they put energy into new growth. Early-spring bloomers like lilac, forsythia and rhododendron produce flowers on wood formed the previous year and should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. If you prune them later in the growing season or during winter, you'll remove flower buds and decrease the amount of spring bloom.

Treat roses that bloom only once per year the same as other spring-blooming shrubs, by pruning after they finish blooming. Repeat bloomers, including hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras, are pruned mostly to shape the plant or to remove winter-damaged canes. If they become overgrown, cut them back in early spring.

Hedges of beech and cherry laurel as well as boxwood topiaries are best pruned after they have leafed out in early spring. This gives them the form in which they will grow for the season. Since many evergreens only have new growth on the tips of branches, wait to prune them until after new growth for the year is complete. Then it will have the whole growing season to form new buds for growing and filling in next year.

Young fruit trees should be pruned as soon as buds form in order to form them into their desired shape and allow their energy to be devoted to making fruit. Perennial herbs like rosemary, oregano and sage grow leggy and woody over time and benefit from being pruned in spring as growth begins.

Tips on Pruning Correctly

● Use high quality pruning tools that have been cleaned and sharpened since the previous season. We recommend by pass pruners which work like a scissor rather than an anvil pruner which tend to squash the branch rather than make a clean cut.

● Remove all dead, diseased or damaged stems as they attract insects and invite diseases to develop. Also remove crossing branches, water sprouts and suckers.

● Cut just above a node where the leaves, buds and shoots emerge from the stem. This way you can manipulate new growth to form in a desired direction, as nodes form on different sides of a stem.

● It’s important to cut at a downwards angle, so rainwater runs quickly off the wound. Cutting flat runs the risk of infections entering the plant, creating ideal conditions for fungi to take hold.

● After pruning, mulch plants with a generous layer of garden compost or well-rotted manure, to give them a boost.

Sweeten Your Soil for a More Abundant and Healthier Crop of Vegetables This Season

Here’s a simple garden chemistry lesson that can predict how well your garden will grow: a soil pH level of 7 is considered neutral, above 7 is alkaline and under 7 is acidic. If you don’t know your yard’s pH, a simple soil test will provide the answer and the knowledge you need to ensure a successful crop or bountiful blooms.

In Rockland County the soil tends to be more acidic. Azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese maples love acidic soil as do blueberry bushes, strawberries and raspberries, so no lime is needed for those crops. But vegetable gardens are most productive in neutral soil, so you will need to “sweeten” the soil if you find the pH is below 7. Lime is the magic ingredient to raise the pH level, making it neutral or alkaline. There are different options for how lime comes packaged. Our staff can show you the various selections and explain the differences so you can make the best choice for your garden and your soil.

There are other benefits to lime as well: a low soil pH can prevent plants from absorbing the available nutrients, so adding lime to raise the pH level allows the plants to kick their absorption rates into high gear. Lime also improves the water penetration capabilities of the soil so plants don’t dry out as quickly.

When adding lime in the spring, allow as much time as possible for those nutrients to work into the soil before you sow seeds or transplant seedlings. You can spread the lime evenly over the top of your soil with a shovel, or you can use a fertilizer spreader machine. Do take care to wear protective gear, including gloves, a mask, and goggles because lime can irritate the skin and eyes. Once you have spread the lime, make sure it has mixed well with the soil by digging down as deeply as your plants’ root systems will eventually grow. Then water the soil to activate the lime--soaker hoses are ideal for completely drenching the area.

It is important to note that even though lime includes calcium and magnesium, which are essential nutrients for healthy plant growth, it's not a substitute for fertilizer. Lime's primary role is to alter soil pH and offset soil acidity. Fertilizer will be your next step towards a healthy, happy garden.

At Down to Earth Garden Center in Rockland County, their garden center is filled with perennials, flowers, shrubs and trees, with new arrivals coming in every week. The 10,000 square foot showroom has an incredible selection of contemporary, classic, traditional and transitional teak, aluminum and all-weather dining and deep-seated furniture as well as home décor. Down to Earth Living is a garden center near Bergen County and located at 1040 Route 45, open 9 am – 5 pm daily and can be reached at 845-354-8500. Visit their website at for more information.

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