Dear Garden Problem Lady

Help with your garden questions


When will the cherry trees by the Tidal Basin be best this year, do you think?
The National Park Service says there is a wide window, from March 20 to April 15 every year, for the cherry trees to perform their wonders. We have had some extremely cold weeks. Then came unusually warm weeks. From March 1 on, cold weather will mean later; warm weather will mean earlier – no one knows more. High winds, sleet and snow can ruin everything – but the blossoms almost always manage to triumph in the vicinity of April 1, give or take!

Our flowering quince has failed to flower this year. Can you suggest why?
Two ideas occur. First, quince blooms on new growth. Therefore, it is important, while the shrub is dormant during winter, to prune away leggy and overgrown branches to encourage little new shoots. These new shoots are the ones that produce the blooms. Second, quince dislikes alkaline soil. Try testing your soil. To boost acidity, add sphagnum peat, aluminum sulfate or composted leaves.

Is it true that columbines love a shady garden? If yes, can you suggest some attractive columbines to plant?
Yes, columbines love light shade and give a delicate touch among denser plants. Aquilegia by its correct, Latin horticultural name, thrives from April on, in lovely pastels and a brilliant red as in the Aquilegia canadensis; Aquilegia vulgaris is a stunning violet blue – elegant, by no means vulgar.

My new husband, who has a wonderfully green thumb, tells me that the soil in my long-neglected garden needs first aid. Music to my ears! In fact, I am hoping it will become HIS garden. First things first, however. I want to show good faith and initiative. But soil? I’ve never quite known a thing about soil. How do we begin?
You are indeed a lucky bride. Your husband is going to have his own ideas, of course. And improving poor soil can take years. Begin with the trees on your property – if any. Trees tend to suck moisture and nutrients from soil, depleting it. You could lose any unwanted trees, although leaves in the autumn can begin to save your soil, if gathered, dried and composted – to be spread all over the garden. Lacking leaf and other compost, you can begin by buying bagged humus and spreading it liberally all over the garden beds. Consider also ways to lighten and aerate your soil so plants can actually access the nutrients they need.


The Capitol Hill Garden Club will feature “Hot New Tried and True Perennials” on Tuesday, March 13, at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings start with refreshments at 6:45 p.m. and are free and open to all. Membership details: