Is there any chance my daffodils will bloom this spring? Which trees and shrubs should I prune in early winter? What is this weird plant in my backyard?!
Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to gardening expert, Melinda Myers, who is a nationally known, award-winning garden expert, TV/radio host and author of more than 20 books.
Got a gardening question for Melinda? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.
Question: Some daffodil plants in my garden did not bloom. Is there any hope that they’ll have flowers this coming spring? I do leave the greens until they turn brown. —Mary Anne Christoffersen of Staten Island, New York
Melinda: Frost, excess shade and overcrowding may prevent daffodils from flowering. Buds of early-blooming daffodils are often killed by late spring frosts. Since the flower buds look similar to a leaf tip when they first expand, the frost damage is often overlooked. In that case, you should have spring blooms if the weather cooperates.
If frost was not an issue, evaluate the amount of sunlight your plants receive. Maturing trees, new structures and additional plantings can increase shade to the point where the plants won’t bloom. Crowding causes a reduction in flowering. Dig and divide overcrowded plants, and move those that are in heavy shade if that’s the problem. Do this as the foliage declines or in fall when you would normally plant new bulbs. (Read more: 10 of the Best Daffodil Bulbs to Plant This Fall)
Question: How can I keep butterfly bushes alive through winter in Zone 6a? I have lost one per year for the past four years. —Connie Mason Etter of Martinsville, Indiana
Melinda: Keep trying! I am a Zone 5a gardener and have had success with butterfly bushes, both in a small city lot and now in a more brutal, open rural location. Grow these plants in a sunny, well-draining spot. Avoid late-season fertilization because it promotes growth that is likely to be winter killed. Leave the plants standing to increase hardiness and provide winter interest. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches above the ground in late winter or early spring, before growth begins. Then be patient. Mine have sprouted as late as mid-July after an extremely cold winter and cool spring. The bushes quickly reached full size and were covered with blooms and butterflies by early August. Well worth the wait! (Read more: 8 Super Fragrant Flowers Pollinators Love)
Question: Which trees and shrubs should I prune or cut back in early winter? Which should be left alone until late winter or early spring? —Jen St. Louis of Elmira, Ontario
Melinda: Always prune with a purpose, whether it’s to establish a strong framework, remove damaged and hazardous branches, encourage flowering and fruiting, or manage growth. Timing depends on the type of plant. (Read more: Become a Pruning Pro)
• Spring-blooming shrubs: Prune right after flowering to maintain early flowers while controlling growth.
• Summer-blooming shrubs: Prune anytime during the dormant season—I prefer late winter or early spring before growth begins. Correct winter damage then, too. Pruning wounds close quickly as new growth begins in spring.
• Evergreen shrubs: Prune in later winter. They suffer less damage if the tender inner growth is not exposed until the worst of winter weather has passed.
• Pine trees: Prune in spring as the buds elongate into what we call candles. These are cut to limit new growth.
• Spruce trees: Prune above healthy buds or adjoining branches in spring before growth begins.
Question: I took this photo in Joshua Tree National Park. Do you know what this plant is? —Joette Storm of Bend, Oregon
Melinda: Looks like blue sage (Salvia clevelandii), a native of the Southwest. Hardy in Zones 8 to 11, it thrives in sunny, dry conditions. This evergreen shrub reaches 3 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. Fragrant flowers last for five to six weeks and serve as a colorful bridge between spring and early summer. Bees and hummingbirds love blue sage, and birds use it for shelter.