The second week of May is a celebration of Mother’s Day, so now is the time to see if you are being a good parent to your plants. They need food, water and your love and protection, but all gardeners must understand that plants in a garden also need discipline. This means showing some tough love this week and getting snippy with winter-weary plants. Make this the week you show your out-of-control plants who’s the boss.
Prune late-blooming perennials like Sedum Autumn Joy, chrysanthemums and phlox, delphiniums and hollyhocks back by one-half this week if you want to train them into becoming shorter, more compact plants. By pruning now it will force summer-flowering perennials to branch out with more blooms later this summer.
Yes, it is as hard to snip back all that precious new growth as it is to discipline an adorable toddler, but if you don’t dare to discipline at this stage, you’ll have out-of-control adolescents.
This also is a good week to trim hedges, edge and mow the lawn, show the weeds who is in charge and remove the three “D”s from all your trees and shrubs. This means to clip off anything dead, diseased or damaged. Now do some nurturing by fertilizing your roses, clematis, perennials and annuals with a slow-release plant food or layer compost or a bark mulch on top of the soil as a nice blanket of security around the plants.
The most important tip of all is to visit a nursery this week, because now is the time to pick out your favorite blooming plants for a summer’s worth of color. Buy for your mom; buy if you are a mom or buy if you’ve ever had a mom, because now is when the flowering plant supply is best.
Here are a few suggestions to match you or your mom’s personality to colorful bloomers at the nursery:
The ’classic’ mom
(If she baked cookies, drove a mini van or called you “The Beaver.”)
Classic flowers: red or pink geraniums, hanging fuchsia basket, especially the easy-to-grow red and white “Swingtime” fuchsias, or a blooming rhododendron or azaleas. There is even an azalea called “Mother’s Day” that likes to flower the second week of May.
The artistic mom
(If she is free-spirited, made you take art or music lessons, likes to try new things and loves bright colors.)
Flowers with an artistic flair: The new compact container clematis named “Cézanne” and “Monet” are named after painters, but are easy-going about growing in pots. There is also a shade-loving evergreen shrub called leucothoe that looks like the foliage has been splattered with pink and red paint. It’s a mystery to me why leucothoe isn’t more popular in Northwest landscapes. For brightly colored, “pop art” blooms, check out the intense shades of orange, yellow and red of the Non-Stop Begonias that will flower all summer even in the darkest shade. This variety of tuberous begonias is much easier to grow and the large blooms can be enjoyed indoors by floating them in a bowl of water to offer daily inspiration to all artistic moms.
The traveling mom
(If you or your mom like to travel, visit for long weekends with friends and can never be tied down to watering plants all summer.)
Plants that don’t need a lot of water: Give a collection of sedums and succulents in a rustic bowl, a drought-resistant display of lavenders or Mediterranean herbs that can take the heat and then go into the kitchen. For a more formal look, pot a yellow-striped yucca into a classic urn or replace a dead shrub that failed to survive your last vacation with a tough barberry or easy-to-ignore nandina.
Mom who wears perfume
(If you or your mom have a sensitive nose, then give fragrant plants and you’ll be imprinting memories of the garden.)
Flowers with fragrance: Lilac shrubs, including the dwarf Miss Kim lilac, delightfully fragrant daphnes, honeysuckle vines, lavender for sunny gardens and the sweet-smelling heliotrope for container gardens.
Did you give your mom fits growing up? Add to her gray hair with your antics? Maybe this is the Mother’s Day you make amends:
Give her a purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) if she ever caught you smoking or lectured you on the dangers of tobacco. It has summer puffs of gray blooms that look like smoke but are good for your health.
Did she need to nag you about removing your shoes and soiling the carpet? A dwarf spiraea called nagic carpet is a colorful shrub that never needs cleaning.
But if your life has taken its share of twists and turns in different directions, then the contorted filbert with crooked branches is the specimen tree that will say it all.
Send questions for Marianne Binetti to P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. For a personal reply, enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org