by Ed Mues
Spring, and nice weather, and the longing to get back into the yard and garden are the thoughts that preoccupy so many of us these days.
After the cold and dreary days of winter, we can almost smell the soil bursting with renewed life and increased vigor.
I’ve often said, it is we who are the sentimental beings, the ones who invest so many aspects of our daily lives into a framework of wishes, desires, and dreams, hoping, somehow, to manipulate nature. It is, rather, Mother Nature that manipulates us, with no conscience or intention whatsoever. She renews all that she is able. We restore all that we are able. We settle into our annual spring rituals. They bring us untold pleasure.
Insects and diseases have as much right to live as our plants and we do. Striking a happy medium, finding the common ground, that is our challenge.
With the advent of spring, I always find it humbling and useful to remember that 24 million years ago the first earthworms began turning dead and decaying flora and fauna into humus. Here, then, are some suggestions to gardeners specific to this time of the year.
Now through mid-April is a fine time to prune apple, pear, grape, raspberry, blueberry, as well as deciduous trees and shrubs that bloom on new wood (summer bloomers). As for stone fruit trees such as peach, cherry, and plum, wait until they are in flower.
Ideal conditions of dormancy, cool temperatures, and moist soils provide an opportunity to renovate rhododendron, azalea, laurel, lilac, andromeda, and holly even at the expense of sacrificing some blossoms this spring.
Soil is thawing and plant roots are beginning to grow. Be especially careful using deicing salts now.
Late season snows can be especially heavy and damaging to evergreens. Don’t wait for snow to stop. Remove it as it accumulates.
When lawn areas are dry, stiff rake them to remove dead grass, leaves, and tree debris.
As soon as flower bulb foliage appears, fertilize these beds with 3 lbs. of 5-10-10 per 100 square feet.
When temperatures are expected to stay above 40˚F for 24 hours or longer, spray fruit trees with dormant oil or horticultural oil to control eggs, immature forms, and soft-bodied adults of very many insect pests.
It’s a great time to plan your garden diary complete with before, during, and after photos. Include space for details, successes and failures, corrective measure taken, and anything else you think pertinent.
Plant pea and spinach seeds as soon as feasible—as well as onion, shallot, and garlic sets.
With 12 hours of daylight around the corner, your houseplants will reward you with a flush of new growth if rejuvenated with fresh soil, a good shower, and a light fertilizing. Some may need repotting.
General garden clean up can be done now if not done in the late fall. Mulch paths now to suppress early weed growth from getting established. Don’t work the soil if it is still wet. But, if it’s fairly dry and won’t stay in a clump if you squeeze it hard, go to it with few ill consequences. Over-wintering insects brought to the surface can be removed by hand or left to the birds or subsequent frosts sure to still come.
Dead and dried ornamental grass leaves, flowers, and seed heads can be cut back close to the base of the plant. Leave a few short handles (four inches is good) so they can be identified when everything begins to burst forth. These, as well as flowering shrubs and perennials can be fed now.
Rhubarb and asparagus can be fed, too. Use 1-1/2 pounds of 5-10-10 per 25 feet of row. Do this again in July.
Reseed bare spots in the lawn but wait until Memorial Day to fertilize.
After a winter with so many temperature fluctuations, inspect closely your favorite perennials and shrubs for having been thrust upward out of their designated spot. This is called frost heaving, and it is likely you’ll find some that need resetting. Do this carefully so as not to damage roots already beginning to grow. Mulch with at least two inches of material. The rains of April will likely settle everyone in just fine.
It is practically spring. Believe it and go forth as sentimentally as you please. Stretch and feel the sun’s warmth 12 hours a day. Celebrate the earth beneath our feet, the connection we share with it. Happy spring!