COMPLETE HOME GARDENER: Cut your losses, get new plants and dig in

It’s official. This is the coldest spring on record and I have learned my lesson. In an earlier column I pointed out the advantages of this cold, wet spring – fewer weed seeds, daffodils last longer, gardening in the rain is great for your skin – but judging from your e-mails and comments on Facebook, most gardeners were not amused by my Pollyanna attitude. I now know that so many gardeners lost hebes, flax, jasmines and other favorite garden treasures that they may still need time to grumble and grieve. But at least we all have plenty of dead plant material for the compost pile...and who doesn’t need more compost?

June is the month to move on from your losses and look at the empty space as an opportunity to try a new plant. This year June is still spring and the perfect month to visit a nursery, adopt a new plant and dig in.

Q. Help! Is my wisteria dead? It usually blooms in April but here it is late May and it is still not in flower. How and when should I fertilize my still leafless wisteria vine? C.R., Eatonville

A. I can join you over the hysteria about lifeless wisteria. My own wisteria that bloomed each May for 25 years still shows no signs of life. I say we both wait it out and hope for a miracle. In the meantime, do not fertilize wisteria as this vine gets lazy and blooms less if overfed. I really hope our wisterias are just super late to bloom due to the cold spring. Perhaps they are saving up for a giant flower show this month when the late-to-the-party peonies finally flower and the roses make a return appearance. That’s unless they have come to a tragic end and are frozen all the way down to the roots.

This summer will be full of surprises.

Q. My climbing rose plant has still not flowered, has black stems and no new leaves. How long should I wait until giving up and assuming it is dead? R.S., Maple Valley

A. Grin and bury it. Roses without any new growth by the start of June are just too weak and ugly to earn the right to live in your garden. Replace winter-weary roses with the rock-hardy landscape or shrub roses that are grown on their own roots. This means there is no graft at soil level to be killed off after a hard winter. The Flower Carpet roses, Rosa rugosa, old-fashioned roses and Knock Out roses are winter hardy, disease resistant and repeat bloomers. It is not too late to prune dead, diseased and damaged wood from your rose plants that did survive.

Q. Will my Heavenly Bamboo plants come back if I prune them really low to the ground now? I can see new sprouts on the lowest part of the branches but the top of the plants are black and the leaves have fallen off. They have never done this before and were happy growing up against my house for five years. B.M., e-mail

A. Time to get snippy with all your winter-damaged or ugly shrubs. Heavenly Bamboo is not a true bamboo but actually a well-behaved Nandina domestica shrub that took a beating this past winter. The good news is you can cut nandina, hebe, spiraeas, escallonia, laurel and most other shrubs almost to ground level this month and you’ll be giving them a fresh start. As soon as you see new sprouts of growth at the base don’t be shy about pruning them back. A tough winter is nature’s way of getting us all to do some serious pruning. The result is a landscape filled with shrubs that are more compact, full and fresh with new foliage.

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