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Springtime Garden Chores

Host Paul James tackles some routine spring tasks in his garden, beginning with a new driftwood design and some planting.

Gardening by the Yard host Paul James tackles some routine spring tasks in his garden, beginning with a new driftwood design and some planting.

Out with the old (a filbert)...

Paul recently dug up a contorted filbert and has decided to replace it with a large piece of driftwood and a twisted Hinoki cypress. The Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa Torulosa, is a slow-growing evergreen shrub that will eventually grow six to eight feet tall. It makes a perfect specimen plant and adds drama to the garden, especially combined with the driftwood.

This new "Knockout" rose joins five others that Paul planted previously.

Next, Paul plants a Knockout rose. Why is it called Knockout? For starters, it’s virtually disease-free, which means no black spot, no rust and no mildew, diseases that are common on many roses. It’s also adaptable to less-than-ideal soils, its foliage is stunning, it never needs pruning, and it flowers for months--from early spring to fall. It’s such a good performer that Paul, not ordinarily a huge fan of roses, is adding this additional Knockout to the five he has planted previously.

Miscanthus "Morning Light"

To soften the entrance to the same bed where the roses are, Paul decides to plant two ornamental grasses, one on each side where the path meets the bed. Here he selects "Morning Light," a variety of Miscanthus, or maiden grass. "Morning Light" matures at about three feet, which is shorter than other varieties of Miscanthus.

Then Paul performs double duty by dragging his garden rake through some mulch, which is full of newly sprouted weed seedlings. In doing this he removes the weeds and fluffs up the mulch, which brings back its color and allows water to percolate more easily through the soil.

Poor soil pH might be the problem with this yellowing azalea.

Next Paul analyzes an ailing azalea. This azalea is the third one in a grouping. The first two are doing fine, but this one’s foliage is turning yellow after flowering, a bad sign for an evergreen. The location is ideal--two hours of sun followed by complete shade--so Paul deduces that the problem is related to soil pH.

Azaleas require acidic soil, and these are planted against a brick wall, with a limestone border in front. Both the bricks and the limestone can slowly leach alkaline chemicals into the soil, raising the pH.

The solution? A sprinkling of soil sulfur, which slowly lowers the pH to its ideal level, plus some alfalfa meal, an all-natural fertilizer that’s great for azaleas. Adding these soil ingredients, as well as doing any pruning that might be necessary, is best done after the azaleas have flowered.

Pretty Plumeria

Have you ever seen a Plumeria, or frangipani? Native to the West Indies, they produce the gorgeous flowers used to make leis in Hawaii.

Figure A

They’re easy to grow from cuttings or sticks (figure A)commonly seen for sale at farmer’s markets, flea markets, or kiosks at the mall. They’re becoming hugely popular among gardeners.

Figure B

When selecting a cutting, be sure it’s firm from top to bottom, and that any cut portions have calloused over (figure B). Place the cutting into a pot filled with sterile potting mix, sand, vermiculite, or some combination of the three—about three inches deep—and place the pot in a spot that gets at least a half day of sun; water well, and wait.

Figure C

Within about four weeks, leaves should begin to emerge from the tips of the cuttings (figure C), a sure sign that roots have begun to form. Another way to check for root formation is to gently tug on the stick. If there’s resistance, there are roots.

Although not tremendously fast growers, plumerias are easy to grow. Just water them when the soil is dry, and overwinter them in the house or unheated garage (they’re tropical and can’t withstand temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit).

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