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Supplement: Local Horticulture Advice

| March 26, 2014


Milton, MA – In the March 27 edition of the Milton Times, we spoke with three local horticulture experts about how to approach lawn and garden care at this time of year to get the best results throughout the growing season.

There simply was not enough room in the newspaper for all the great tips we were given, so we’ve decided to share what we couldn’t print here on our website.

You can find the rest of their tips in the newspaper.



Carol Stocker, Horticultural Committee co-chair of the Amateur Gardeners of Milton, who has written about gardening for 35 years, had the following advice:

-Cut back red twig dogwoods down to the bottom.


-Prune rose of Sharon by 1/3.


-Prune crossing, tangled branches that are rubbing against one another.


-Prune and shape shrubs, trees and anything that was damaged over the winter.


-It’s too early to prune roses (wait until mid-April).gardenwoman


-Too early to plant seeds.


-Cut down everything that you didn’t get to last fall.


-There is a lot of raking to be done.


-To counteract our often slightly acid rain, spread a little calcitic lime around. Don’t get dolmag lime.


-The big takeaway is that your garden should contribute to the environment by helping to fight global warming with good, natural practices. You don’t want your garden to contribute to global warming by doing things like using a lawn mower that puts more carbon into the air than a car engine. You can get a zero-emission mower and reduce the size of your lawn.


-Don’t use peat moss. It contributes to global warming by releasing greenhouse gasses when it is mined from peat bogs up north. It takes hundreds of years to grow.


-Many plants that used to grow healthily in this region can no longer do so due to climate change, and plants that used to only grow father to the south can now be grown here. Flora such as sugar maple trees are dying because it’s too warm for them, as is the same for spruce forests.




Erica Max, Wakefield Estate program director, ISA-certified arborist and graduate of the Landscape Institute in Boston, shared this expertise with us:

-In March, before the ground has dried, it’s too early to apply new mulch.


-Lawn seeds wont germinate unless they experience a certain number of “degree days,” which are days that reach a certain temperature, approximately 50 degrees in this case.

(Learn more about degree days here:

(And here is an up-to-date map from Cornell about how many degree days we’ve had so far this year:


-Some grass seed mixes are going to be a lot more able to handle the cold season. Bluegrass is the most fussy. A temperate blend is better for environment, is more drought-tolerant, and will germinate more quickly.


-Soil supplements are just like crutches: if you use supplements too long you weaken your own muscles.

-There are remedies for a lot of things that have crept in over the winter, like mildew on lilacs, but its too early to do anything about them in March. Put it down on calendar to do a June. Make a list of future things to do; think “at 60 days, what can I do at that point?”




-Just like a human or any animal, when a plant is making its own babies it takes a lot of energy from the adult plant. If we don’t prune away flower heads, that plant is going to turn that flower into a seed. Give that plant the message of what you want it to be doing.



-Plants will be setting next year’s buds in July.


-Polly Wakefield (founder of the Wakefield Estate) was a real environmental pioneer. She was aware of many conservation methods. They’re somewhat conservative, but very responsible, sustainable methods.



Hilda Morrill, who writes the blog and authors the Milton Times column, “The Scene Beyond Milton,” let us in on the following insider knowledge:

-Late March and early April is a good time to clean up yard debris and to prune back any dead or broken branches from small trees. Work on large trees should be left to the professionals.


-I always cut back spireas and butterfly bushes at this time. It keeps them small and compact.


-It’s also a good time to cut back the decorative grasses such as the miscanthus, which looks ragged and messy after the long winter.


-The dead tops of my sedums get trimmed, too. They give interest to the winter garden and provide food for some of our resident birds. But by now, they look pretty ratty. Nice new green shoots are visible at their base.


-For many, the beginning of April is the ideal time to sow tomato and other seeds indoors for planting outside when the weather warms up, usually around Memorial Day.


-Some seeds, such as those of peas, spinach, celery and lettuces, can be sown directly in the garden where they are to grow. A couple of good books for beginners and old-timers alike are “The Garden Primer,” by Barbara Damrosch and “Organic Gardening for the 21st Century” by John Fedor.



For those interested in learning some more about pruning, this Saturday the Wakefield Estate’s Pruning Practicum will be taught by Debbie Merriam, the Wakefield Estate landscape director, who is also an ISA-certified arborist. Visit for more information.

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