April, 2019

Hello garden lovers! Spring is finally starting to show up. She took her sweet time getting here, but I will not show my disappointment. Instead, I will welcome her and get to work. After the thaw, I noticed some damage to some of my trees and shrubs, esp pussy willow, lilacs, and hydrangeas.

At first, I thought this might be deer damage, but I sent the pics to a local tree specialist and he said it is likely damage from rabbits. Further research gave me a name for this. It is called girdling and it happens when there is a lot of snow covering the ground for several weeks to months. (Yes. We remember the never ending winter.) The rabbits can't find food and resort to stripping the bark off trees and shrubs. My research told me the plants usually do not survive. OH NO! However, below are pics from today. I am happy to say both my pussy willow and lilacs have signs of life. No word on the hydrangeas yet, but it is still early for those here in Central Iowa.

On to tools...
One of the first things we need to do for the spring season is to clean and sharpen our tools. I do this myself, but if anyone has tips different from mine or they know someone who does it for them, feel free to share that info. I use a dremel tool. The attachment you see below, I use for cleaning. I also use steel wool and/or sand paper for some of my tools. If they have rust, this dremel attachment works well.

For sharpening, I use the attachment below. You can also buy files for less then 7 dollars usually and if your tools are not too dull, that might do the trick. I only use the dremel once at the beginning of the season.  My tools stay pretty sharp throughout the gardening year.  When using this tool, it is a good idea to wear protective goggles and not have any flammables around as the sparks can FLY! 

In between, I clean off my tools with a steel brush and wipe them with oil. Some put them in a bucket of sand(instead of the oil) to keep them clean and rust free as well. When I was growing up, my dad put his garden tools in a barrel filled with discarded motor oil. I do not recommend this. 😜

As for tools, below I have some more pics of those I use most often. I would recommend a little research on what to buy based on your gardening needs. The store displays can be overwhelming. For the day to day trimming as well as pruning of most flowers, I recommend two types of pruners. Pictured below are anvil pruners. Notice the straight blade on the right side. Anvil pruners are strong and work well on woody stems like roses or hydrangeas. I use these almost every time I am out in the garden. Invest 20-30 dollars. DO NOT BUY your pruners at the dollar general, etc. These cost me maybe 30 dollars, but I have had them for several years. 

 The next kind of pruners are called bypass pruners(pictured below). Notice the curved blade. These are for more tender stems such as coneflower, herbs, etc. These are friskars brand which is one I really like. They last a long time and are usually ergonomic in style(very important to consider if you have a big garden or arthritis).

Bigger branches such as trees or large shrubs require bigger guns so to speak. I do not climb up and prune my own trees. I pay the tree guy I referenced earlier to do this. However, I do have a corkscrew willow that often needs attention where I can reach. I also have established roses, a golden smokebush, and others that need more caliber then the handheld pruners. Below are some pics of tools for this. The first is a handheld, fold out saw. This is great for dead rose wood, the corkscrew willow, etc. 

The hedge shears shown below are great for bayberry bushes, boxwood, etc. If you have trimming, and shaping needs on a larger scale these can be helpful. The handles can be extended for better reach. Below are set of anvil pruners for larger diameter branches. These also have the option of being able to extend the reach. 

 The last tool for today is a trowel. When buying a trowel to help you put all those plants you buy at the plants sales or nursery this spring in the ground, test it out in your hand first. The grip should be comfortable and the part where the scoop meets the handle should be sturdy and thick. If the trowel has a thin, scrawny neck, it won't hold up. The first time you dig in semi dry soil, that neck will bend and you will have a useless piece of equipment. Learn from me. I have gone through many scrawny necked trowels before FINALLY learning this lesson.

As for pruning, I could not figure out a good way to condense all of the pruning info into a blog. It would be a novel instead! If you have specific questions about pruning your plants, please email me on this site or message me on facebook. I might be able to help. I will for sure try. One thing someone told me about pruning once, it that you rarely kill a plant by simply pruning it. This helped me to not be afraid!

It is a great time to prune here in central Iowa. Roses require removal of the dead wood as well as the diseased parts of the plants. Clematis that blooms in the fall can be cut back now. Clematis that blooms in the spring may not bloom if you trim it now. Same with lilacs. Spring blooming plants do better if you prune them after blooming. One rule for pruning is to remove about 10-15% of the plant and no more then 25% at a time.

All the plant centers are open and will sell you some flowers. Be careful about spending a lot of money and bringing home plants. Here in Central Iowa, we are still having freezing lows. It is ok to bring home pansies and put them in a pot that you can put in a more protected spot if the temps are expected to dip below freezing. It is fine to prune and even clean off most beds. The forecasted temps are ok for most established plants in the ground. I might not uncover hostas until it is staying in the 50's, but most other things are hardy enough.

I hope you are enjoying this blog. I will try to post more often, but I am learning as I go. I am open to subject suggestions and constructive feedback. 🙉💜

Now everyone get out there and enjoy this lovely spring. A wise person also wanted me to remind everyone to wear sunscreen and hats. Don't forget your ears and the back of your neck as I often do.

Emily Whaley 


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