Ciscoe’s tips for waking up your garden in early March

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Originally published March 8, 2012
By Ciscoe Morris, former In the Garden writer

EARLY MARCH IS ALSO a great time to prune and feed your roses. Pruning roses in spring keeps them at a manageable size and stimulates blooming.

Wear sturdy leather (or special rose-pruning) gloves. Getting pricked by a thorn is not only painful, but a mildewed thorn can cause serious illness.

Start by removing dead or seriously diseased canes; branches growing into the middle of the plant; and weak, spindly twigs. Keep all of the healthy canes except where two canes are crowding each other, in which case remove the weaker of the two.

Unless you need to renovate the rose, avoid the practice of cutting the canes down within 6 inches of the ground. Roses store energy in their canes, and such hard pruning year after year can weaken the plant. Instead, as a general rule, prune healthy canes down about two-thirds, cutting to an outward-facing bud.

Remove old leaves, as they often harbor disease, and rake up fallen leaves from around the plant. Finally, work about a cup of organic rose food with 2 cups of alfalfa meal into the soil around your rose.

Before you know it, your newly trimmed and well-fed rose will reward you with a magnificent display of beautiful blooms.

A breath of fresh air
With spring comes new growth, so it’s also time to uncover the base of perennials and deciduous shrubs that you protect with a blanket of mulch or evergreen boughs.

Even if the top of the growth on borderline hardy plants died in the cold, as long as the roots were well-covered, they will usually come back from the base.

Uncover the base of tender woody plants such as Melianthus (honeywort) and Callistemon (bottlebrushes) soon to let air and light penetrate and stimulate growth from the root zone.

It might take until June to see growth, so don’t be in a hurry to remove woody plants that look dead.

Wait until the weather warms up a bit more (generally in April) to remove the protective layer that you placed over tender bulbs such as cannas and dahlias.

Replace, transplant container centerpieces
One way to create incredible container-garden designs is to start with a spectacular hardy dwarf tree or shrub as a centerpiece that you can leave in the pot for years while changing the colorful flowering perennials, annuals and vines that serve as the fillers and spillers on the seasonal basis.

If you’re not paying attention, however, you might miss the fact that the centerpiece has grown too big and is not only out of proportion with the pot, but might have become so root-bound that there’s little room left for companion plants.

Take a good look at your containers, and if the centerpiece is getting too large, now is the time to pop it out of the pot to transplant it into the garden. If it’s not root-bound, all you’ll need to do is cut around the outside of the root ball with an old pruning saw, and it should come out without much of a struggle.

If it’s totally root-bound, eat your Brussels sprouts for added strength, because you’re in for a real wrestling match. Lay the pot on its side on a lawn or soft soil, and use the saw to gnaw away at the rootball to free it from the inside of the pot.

Don’t tug on the trunk, but keep wiggling and gently pulling at it until you can get it loose enough to slide it out of the pot.

How come I suspect you’ll be changing centerpieces a bit more often after this afternoon-long battle?