SPRING FEVER [spriNG ˈfēvər] NOUN. A condition characterized by the incessant desire to be outdoors while there is still snow on the ground. Often beginning in mid-February, the condition culminates in a feverish flurry of outdoor activity beginning the first Saturday in which temperatures exceed 50 degrees.
My neighbor, Frank, has Spring Fever. I try to talk with him as often as possible to soothe his anxiousness, but once you’ve got it, it’s a difficult dog to put back to bed. But for a little straw where we patched his lawn last fall, his yard is spotless. As the few leaves remaining on the oak trees fall – one by one – he’s there to catch them before they even touch the ground. Occasionally a few get by in the night while he’s not looking, but he’s up every morning seeking resolution. He wanted to plant grass seed last week. I encouraged him to wait a little bit longer for the soil to warm up. I’m trying to prepare myself to tell him this week that planting perennials should be put off for another few weeks, too. As I write this, I hear him across the street mowing the lawn. No harm, I suppose.
It’s a difficult season, to be sure. With spring technically here, St. Louis is in an “already/not yet” type of position. It’s already spring. But not yet warm enough to… Hence, the Fever. To help you in this time of transition, here are a few tasks that you may still need to do outdoors in preparation for the season.
1. General Clean-Up
Beyond the leaves and sticks that will likely continue to fall for the next couple of weeks (at least from the oaks and the hornbeams), you may have annuals, perennials and ornamental grasses that still need attention from last fall.
The annuals can be pulled up – usually by hand – and thrown into the compost pile or however you dispose of them. If any of them are re-seeders, they will have already dropped their seeds by now so it’s fine to remove them.
The remaining foliage from any of your perennials can be cut back to about 2”-3” from the ground. Without much tugging, you can usually grab all of the foliage with one hand and cut it back with the other.
Same with the ornamental grasses. The grasses, however, should be trimmed to about 6” or so from the ground – leave a little more than you do with the perennials.
The goal with the trimming height – whether it’s grasses or perennials – is to cut high enough to avoid the crown of the plant. Many plants, when cut back too low (into the crown) will not recover. The reason for removing the decaying foliage is two-fold. 1) You’re improving the look of the landscape by removing the debris, but, more importantly, 2) removing the decaying foliage is also removing the breeding ground for pests and the context for fungal problems.
This is the time of year that many flowering plants find themselves on their last leg. Most of their energy reserves are used in producing new spring growth, then comes flowering. In the flowering (reproductive) process, the plant will devote every last bit of energy that it has toward this end – flowering; reproducing. Why does my azalea look like a broom with only one or two flowers? Perhaps it hasn’t been fed. Why doesn’t my redbud flower like it used to? It’s lunchtime. Same with rhododendron, crabapples, hydrangea (a little later), spirea, dogwood, forsythia – this list goes on…
If you have a spring-blooming anything – giving it a bite to eat right now will contribute to a fuller, healthier, better blooming plant when it’s time.
Of course. Mulching can be done any time of the year. If you didn’t get to it in the fall, now is a fine time to get it done. Adding a couple inches of mulch will help to moderate temperature and moisture – both important as the spring fluctuations in both can have an adverse effect on plants. Mulching also provides the sustenance needed by the microorganisms beneath the soil. As these microorganism are vital to the on-going, sustained growth and flourishing of all landscape plants, feeding them (the mulch) is a good way to work off a bit of the Fever.
Most trees and shrubs that are not spring-bloomers can be pruned right now to keep them in shape, or to reduce their size. Since they will be putting on new growth soon, your pruning marks won’t be visible (unsightly in the summer) and the plant will flush out better than ever since the energy that would have been spent on those trimmings will instead be spent on multiplying branches.
If the Fever is getting to you and you’d like more information about your specific landscape and its needs, we’re always happy to visit. The consultation is free and it’s very likely that we can produce a list for you that should keep the Fever in check until it gets a little warmer outside.
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