Dear Problem Garden Lady

April 2018


We always spend winters away. My husband insists, now that April’s here and we’re back home, that we have missed the correct time to prune our large and badly overgrown beech tree. He will not hear of pruning it now. But I can see very high branches ready to fall, and a canopy that – although leafless as yet – is going to be jammed with crossing branches. How can I persuade him otherwise, or shall I just hire a pruner and let the chips fall where they may?
Your beech tree might be an exception that proves the rule. Your husband is entirely correct. Most trees should be pruned while they are dormant. Otherwise they suffer – rather like a human being suffering surgery without an anaesthetic. But the reasons for pruning are many. The tree may suffer but still survive, if you remove an insect infestation or rot or disease. You shouldn’t wait for the appropriate seasonal timing in this case. Similarly, thinning a canopy that contains broken and crossing branches will safeguard people and allow air and sunshine to reach the interior of the tree – aiding its longterm health.

My usually big bushy Spirea, having suffered through the past winter, is dry and brown. Should I cut it right back, or will the brown disappear with time and cascades of white flowers return?
Spirea seems to produce leaves late, as white flowers arrive. Since your Spirea is probably a bridal wreath type, it blooms on new (or this year’s) wood. That means you could trim any broken or damaged branches now without missing any lovely May and June showers of flowers. But you don’t have to. Some Spirea do bloom on “old” (or last year’s) wood – often the pink kind. The time to prune those is after they bloom, before summer.

I have forgotten what perennials I should have planted to hide the fading leaves of my splendid but now dead daffodils. Can I still plant something?
Of course you can. Your horticultural instincts are excellent – allowing daffodil leaves to live on to feed their bulbs to bloom again next spring. Many people choose lilies to hide expiring daffodil leaves. The bright green spears of daylilies dart up in April to blend in well. Any other summer-blooming perennial would be as good – Rudbekia, Shasta daisy, or a pretty perennial geranium – even a colorful biennial such as Sweet William or foxglove or lovely annuals like zinnia, cleome or cosmos.

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: