The coronavirus has changed our lives. Many of us find escape in the garden and there is plenty to do this time of year. With all the rain, weeds are having a field day but the moist soil means that they are easily dug. All you need are weatherproof shoes or boots, a hori, and a kneeling pad.

My straggly Forsythia

Bushy Forsythia hedge

Now is the perfect time to get rid of your frustrations by pruning overgrown shrubs. All you need are sharp pruners, loppers and, perhaps, a small saw. I have Forsythia that came with the house at the back of my driveway. It is shaded so the bushes are too tall and straggly. Ideally, they should be pruned as soon as the blooms disappear but it seems like I’m always too busy. This year I am determined to get out there and start pruning which will encourage lower and bushier growth. This process is called rejuvenation pruning. This is the more severe of two techniques, the other being renewal pruning. Plants that are stressed or in poor health may not survive this severe level of pruning in which the shrub is pruned by cutting off all old branches at or near ground level. (You can cut down to eighteen inches instead.) Healthy shrubs will respond by sending up multiple new shoots and these will need to be thinned to reduce competition and maintain the natural form of the shrub. This type of pruning works well on Forsythia, privet, and mock orange.


Renewal pruning is a three year process in which you remove one-third of the oldest and thickest branches at their base. The second year, you remove another third, and the third year, the rest. This type of pruning will encourage new growth from the base. I find it works best on old lilacs and Hydrangea paniculata, the blooms of which can be too high to see or smell. For lilacs, however, wait until after they bloom.

We are fortunate in Ohio that nurseries, greenhouses and garden centers are considered essential businesses. This is not true in all states. Now that you are spending so much time at home, you can still purchase soil amendments and plants. If you want trees, shrubs or perennials but don’t want to go out, you can order them from me and I can have them delivered to your home. I can also order soil amendments for you. Another alternative is purchasing plants online. However, in most instances, they will be smaller and more expensive.

Orange is not a usual choice in the garden but the combination of Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’, and  an orange Celosia is quite cheery.

The consequential decision is what to do about annuals and vegetables. Growing vegetables is an alternative to trips to the grocery store but be prepared to defend them from the raiders: deer, rabbits, and squirrels. Garden centers will have them and they realize that they have to figure out how to enforce social distancing at a time when they are usually overwhelmed with people. I suspect that, this year, most will be happy to have you pre-order and pay with a credit card (rather than handle paper money that does retain the virus for 24 hours). Then you could arrange for either curbside pick up or delivery. Another possibility is making an appointment to select your plants. This would limit the number of people in the area.

There are no easy answers but watching plants grow may be the only thing that saves our sanity.