Fruit trees should be pruned now, even if they are starting to push flower buds. (Nicole Phillips)

Fruit trees should be pruned now, even if they are starting to push flower buds. (Nicole Phillips)

In the world stressing you out? Escape to the garden

Breath in fresh air, roll up your sleeves and get to work on pruning, weeding and planting.

Sometimes I feel like our world is spinning out of control. There is fear over the coronavirus, political turmoil over the November elections, concerns about climate change, the stock market, March Madness (OK, maybe that isn’t a life or death issue), and then general angst over making the mortgage or being able to pay for health care.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, I have the solution for you: Spend more time in the garden! The sunshine will do you good, working in the dirt will help you build up immunities, breathing the fresh air will clear your lungs, and communing with nature will clear your mind.

Here are some things you can do while you are decompressing from all that life is currently throwing you:

Get pruning. March is a key month for pruning. Due to our fairly mild winter, I don’t expect to see much winter damage. Deciduous shrubs that bloom in the summer, like butterfly bush, spiraea, potentilla and hypericum, can be hacked back hard now. This also goes for red twig dogwoods that are grown for their winter interest. Hard pruning stimulates lots of new growth, which is good for these summer bloomers. Early spring bloomers, like forsythia and quince — which are blooming now — should be pruned after they finish blooming, so hold off for now on them.

Tend to roses. Roses will require some serious attention this month, if you want spectacular blooms this summer. Prune them down to knee high (except climbers, of course), clean around them, apply a generous application of organic fertilizer (2 cups per bush isn’t too much), and cover the soil with a fresh layer of compost. An application of dormant oil and copper is a good preventative spray to help prevent insect and disease problems. If for some reason you still have any of last year’s leaves on the bush, remove them and toss them in the yard waste bin.

Clean up hydrangeas. Hydrangeas are always confusing for gardeners. PG type hydrangeas can be cut back hard since they bloom on new wood. Mop head and lace leaf varieties should be cut just below last year’s blooms, same for oakleaf and climbing varieties. It gets complicated, so don’t hesitate to ask a horticultural professional. Bringing pictures into the garden center is always helpful when it comes to explaining how to do things.

Pamper fruit trees. Fruit trees should be pruned now, even if they are starting to push flower buds. If you act fast, there is still time to apply a dormant spray of copper and oil, but always avoid any insecticides (natural or synthetic) when trees are in full bloom. March is the last month to purchase bareroot fruit trees. Starting April, they will generally cost you 20% to 40% more. By planting this month, you can save dollars, get a better selection and benefit from not having to lug around a 40-pound pot of soil. As a bonus, bareroot plants will often establish faster.

Weeding is critical. Get those weeds out of the garden before they go to seed and you will have fewer weeds to contend with this coming fall. You can skin-off annual weeds with a Hula Hoe in a matter of minutes, then follow up with a layer of compost and be done for the season. Perennial weeds will need their roots removed as well, which is a little more work. Products made with corn gluten help to keep future weed seeds from germinating, but be sure to read the label — they can also damage desirable plants if used in the wrong places.

Plant cool-season veggies. After you have worked your soil with some fresh compost, fertilizer and lime, head down to the garden center for starts of potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, and seeds of carrots and radishes. In other words, root crops! You can also plant leaf crops and peas right now, either from seed or transplants — there is nothing sweeter than a fresh-picked pea. Wait on tomatoes, peppers, beans and basil until the soil and air is much warmer, usually some time in May.

There are tons of documented health benefits from gardening: the exercise is good for us, the sunshine is full of vitamin D, the visual and culinary rewards improve our physical and mental health — the list goes on! These next several months are going to be extremely stressful for all of us, and other forms of recreation may not even be options with the threat of contamination.

For sure, we all need to pull together and take care of each other, but we also need to take care of ourselves. Spending time in the garden may just be the best medicine out there. Stay safe.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at Dahlias and summer bulbs

Attend two free classes, one on summer-blooming bulbs at 10 a.m. March 14 and another on dazzling dahlias at 11 a.m. March 15, at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit

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