Roses are dead, violets are blue

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Spring is here; that is, the wet and cold version. There have been a few moments of sun. Moments that have looked more like scenes from Exodus:

"And the clouds parted bringing rays of sun down upon the people of the valley, And the people went forth from their homes, They stood amongst their yards, And they pondered."

Then the clouds return, the wind picks up, and it starts raining again -- back they go into their homes like thousands of Punxsutawney Phils who just saw their shadow.

We will, eventually, see some clear skies and sunny days. When we do, it will no longer be time to ponder, but time to clean up.

Spring is the time most of us get our yards ready for the rest of the year. Like you, I often put off the fall trimming and cleaning until spring.

Should we be doing the yard tune-up in fall instead of spring?

Yes, but it will be okay if you don't.

Fall trimming and cleanup is best because it removes all the dead leaves and debris that can help protect diseases and insects through the winter.

Fall trimming of plants and trees reduces the amount of branches and stems that can be broken off by the weight of snow or ice, keeping them healthier and maintaining their desired shape.

However, if, like me, you spent your fall procrastinating about the yard and instead spent it planning your Halloween costume and Thanksgiving menu, its now time to get out there.

Leaves and debris are some of the most important things to get out of the plant beds. As I mentioned before these provide protection for disease and pests.

The other important thing is to get rid of the dead leaves, stems, and branches that are still hanging on to plants. Remove the dead, but also reshape plants to keep them healthy and looking their best as new growth arrives.

If new growth is already happening, you can still trim most plants. The only plants that shouldn't be trimmed in spring are those with early spring blooms like Forsythia, and plants that produce their flowers or fruits on last years growth.

Over the next few weeks, you will also be able to identify the plants that have been damage or failed to survive the winter.

Sorry rose lovers, this is going to be a bad spring. However, it won't be only rose lovers who will lose plants this year; all of us are going to suffer loses.

The recent winter was cold at times, but the winter will not be as much the culprit to our plant losses, as was the hard freeze we had at the end of November. If you recall, about the third week in November, temperatures went from the low 40s down to single digits before most plants had completed the process of dormancy.

Going back to roses. Most roses are grafted, meaning the plant we want has been attached to a plant in the same family with a more vigorous root system. Grafted plants, especially roses are vulnerable to cold because the graft is usually above ground, and that November freeze hit rose grafts hard.

Next fall, you can help protect your roses by putting a pile of compost, mulch, or bark over the graft to protect it from winter. But this year, plan to buy a lot of new roses.

Over the next few weeks, plants that have received the most damage from fall and winter, will begin to reveal what is dead and what is alive.

If your plant is showing no signs of new growth by mid to late April, it is time to say good bye. But before you yank the plant out of the ground by its ears, do a little investigative work. Look at the lower branches and at the base of the plant for new growth. Many plants and shrubs will have a lot of dead higher up on the plant, but will have survived the cold at their base or through their root system.

I think a quote I recently heard best sums up how we should approach the plants in our landscape this year: "Plan for the worst, but hope for the best."

Bryce Rugraff is owner of The Plant Company and Plant Company Landscaping in Walla Walla.

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