Spring Garden Chores

Plan Your Work And Play For Spring

Spring usually goes from: “It’s never, never, never going to arrive” to “I’m weeks behind schedule” in 17 nano seconds or less. Gardeners are body-slammed from the tedium of winter house arrest into a frantic, aching rush tackling endless chores.  

But don’t panic. We are here to help with suggestions based on our experience of tasks that are best done sooner than later. One of the first things you should decide is what to-dos can wait for later in the season. Pick your battles wisely. For instance, if it’s too wet, cold or the schedule too packed, skip some of those early vegetables and plant them in late summer for fall harvest. Here are other ideas.

Michael’s suggestions 

  • Take photos of borders and beds to see what areas need filling when bulb planting time arrives. Memories fade almost as quickly as the snowdrops and hyacinths.
  • Apply weed preventer to reduce tedious work in pavements, beds and borders. Organic and nonorganic products are available, but nothing is 100 percent effective. Unless arctic conditions are expected to persist for weeks, I  start in late winter with the brick patio and walk. These face south and warm quickly. The gravel drive is next and then beds and borders. Following label instructions, apply just before rain and save watering the products in. Record-setting precip last year — much in the form of gulley-washing downpours — mean more frequent treatment. (Caveat – preventers don’t distinguish between desired self-sown flowers and weed seeds.)
  • Drop everything and schedule an escape to a nearby state park, botanic garden or stretch of lovely country driving. Spend a few hours or better a day  savoring the joy of spring fever. What a waste of time, you’re probably thinking. If poet William Wordsworth had spent that fateful spring day planting potatoes and cabbages instead of “wandering lonely as a cloud” among the “host of golden daffodils, all he would have had was a crossed-off to-do list. Instead, we have his timeless ode to spring and some of it glorious flowers. Your spirit needs lifted just as much as his. Hit the road.

Debra’s suggestions:

  • Now is the time to weed. Spring rains soften the soil which allows annual and perennial weeds to be removed; roots and all. Weeding can be a morning meditative practice. It is also an opportunity to roam your gardens with a cup of tea in one hand and a weed bucket in the other. Just make sure the weeds go into the bucket and not your tea.
  • Start your seeds for melons, squash, kohlrabi, and cabbages inside. Direct seed into the garden crops that like cooler soils: peas, lettuces, mesclun mixes, tatsoi, mizuna, kale, collards, dill, and cilantro. Transplant the tomato and chili seedlings that you started in early March into larger pots.
  • Visit the garden center to shop for cold-loving herbaceous plants like pansies and violas, primroses, and snapdragons.  These spring beauties add early color to borders and containers.  Even try mixing them with edibles like lettuce and kale for your spring containers.  Cuttings of willow and yellow-twig dogwood add further interest.
  • Watch for the early ground bees. Their small burrows are easy to step on and crush
  • Sit for a moment or three and marvel at the life that is emerging from the ground. And remember to breathe…

Teresa’s suggestions

  • Rework tired beds.  On a cool overcast day, dig everything from the bed and place the plants on a tarp in the shade.  Divide overgrown plants, toss unhealthy ones, move some to other beds or give others away. Work compost into the bed then replant the existing plants and add others as needed.
  • Edge beds while the ground is soft.  A clean edge adds definition to borders and helps control weeds. See Michael’s post on edging.
  • Prune dead, damaged and diseased branches from shrubs. After spring-flowering shrubs bloom, they can be pruned for size and shape. Also, remove suckers from crabapples and the base of trees like magnolias.
  • Remove invasive plants from natural areas, perhaps a wooded area at the back of your property.  Look for bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard, multi-flora rose, lesser celandine and autumn olive – all aggressive plants that crowd out other valuable plants and wildflowers. For tips, see http://ohiodnr.gov/invasiveplants or join an invasive plant volunteer work day at a local park.

The Kiss of the Sun for Pardon

Magnolia buds

Buds on a star magnolia offer promises of brighter, warmer days ahead.

 

By Michael Leach

Winter brings special magic to the garden. Visions of snowy branches, frosty twigs and bluish moon shadows on clear frigid nights come to mind. But sunshine is part of the potion.

Sea oats

Seeds of northern sea oats glow in morning light.

 

In this part of the Midwest, winter sunlight can be a rare and fleeting phenomenon. Weeks of gray skies are not unusual. So there is delight when the sun makes an appearance. When those welcome rays appear in early morning and late afternoon,  the garden glows softly with the burnishing effects from the sun low on the horizon.

ornamental grass

Plumes of ornamental grasses stand out against the somber backdrop of evergreens.

The poem on a garden plaque I keep meaning to buy starts, “The kiss of the sun for pardon … .” That kiss in winter, no matter how brief and infrequent,  warms my heart regardless of the temperature.

 

sycamore

Sycamore branches are tinted with the first rays of a February day.

In recent weeks I collected images of this warming touch. Perhaps they will inspire you to go forth in the remaining days of winter to look for special effects and golden vignettes before becoming overwhelmed with all the work that lies ahead.

Prairie dock leaf

The withered giant leaf of a prairie dock wears the gilt of sunshine on a winter morn.

 

yucca

Love ’em or hate ’em, yuccas seem magical at dawn on a clear winter day.

 

A walk in the woods in late afternoon brings enchantment and the voice of the woodland.

 

 

Happy Spring!

IMG_2943

Spring Countdown: 1 day

Leach garden (22)How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill

By Michael Leach

Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.

By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.

While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.

But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.

This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.

The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s  first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.

(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without  heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)

Spring Countdown: 2 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In keeping with the green-theme here is another set of books to consider.  From bottom to top:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – I still have the original The Basic Book of Organic Gardening edited by Robert Rodale – a dense paperback that was published in 1971 and purchased by me in 1989 for $3.95.  The pictured book was published in 2002 and has much of the same down-to-Earth information, but with lots of pictures.  We like pictures…

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Farming – This is a book that has become one of the bibles of the sustainable food movement.  Parts are poetic; other parts are packed with process-thinking and science.  If you are considering growing your own food organically, this book will give you a path to follow.

No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening – now for something on the quirky, but very fun, end of the spectrum… Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs travel through the issues of vegetable gardening with humor.  Not everything is cut-and-dry and gardening is not rocket science.

The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet – Joe Lamp’l offers quick, yet informative, lessons on how to garden and how to work with nature.  He stresses that you don’t have to do it all at once, just take one step at a time.  Most topics are 2-3 pages long.

Green Guides Crops in Pots: Growing Vegetables, Fruit & Herbs in Pots, Containers & Baskets – For those of you who do not have the acreage for an in-the-ground garden but want to garden, here’s your book.  The tips are very helpful and the sound-byte facts are thought-provoking; for example, “Did you Know? North America produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s blueberries.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden – I do have to take a stand with the word “new”, but the time-honored information is presented in a very attractive and easy to understand format.  If you follow the recommendations, you will be saving energy, money and be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

And lastly, Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life – This book goes beyond the garden, proposing options that are at different levels of action; your choice.  As I tell my students, there isn’t always a best option, sometimes it boils down to: what is the least-worst?

 

Spring Countdown: 4 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that I’ve made many times.  This is comfort food!

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

From Moosewood Daily Special with a few changes…

2 TBL      olive oil

2 c.         chopped onions*

1 tsp      ground caraway seeds (fennel is another option)

½ tsp     salt

4-5 c.     coarsely chopped green cabbage

2 c.         sliced potatoes

3 c.         water or vegetable stock

2 tsp      dried dill**

4 oz.       chevre

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, caraway and half the salt until the onions are translucent; about 7-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and remaining salt and cook until the cabbage is beginning to wilt.  Add the potatoes and water and bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat.  Add the dill and chevre, and stir to combine.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Simmer the soup if it has cooled too much, add salt and pepper to taste and add water if the blended soup is too thick.

*   When in season, I use leeks instead.

** If you have fresh dill, use at least 2 tablespoons; other herbs to use: thyme or sage; both are especially tasty with fennel instead of caraway.

Spring Countdown: 5 days

By Teresa Woodard

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better spring green plant to pay tribute to this Irish holiday.  Mosses are now greening up creek banks, rocks, tree trunks and other shady native habitats.  In the landscape, moss is also moss containergaining interest as a no-mow lawn alternative, a lush addition to container planters and an attractive accent to shade gardens.

To learn more about moss gardening, check out the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association website including a “Bryology 101” and a listing of species counts by county.  Also, Joe Lamp’l shares ideas for growing moss in the landscape and container gardens in an all-moss segment on Growing a Greener World.

Here are two online sources for purchasing moss:  Moss Acres and Moss and Stone Gardens.  Remember when harvesting moss, avoid parks and ask for permission on private property.  Only take small amounts from a colony, so the plants can regenerate.

Spring Countdown: 6 days

IMG_0443By Michael Leach; photo by Abby Fullen

Choruses of bird songs, gentle breezes murmuring through bare branches, and the distant sounds of spring peepers are among my favorite sounds of the season of rebirth.

Just as evocative but barely louder than a whisper, is the sound of seeds rattling in a paper packet.

Seeds mean seedlings and this conjures visions of sun on the back, warm brown earth and dirt under the fingernails.

After gardening for more for than a half century,  the simple act of putting seeds in the soil and watching shoots emerge still excites me more than any other part of this always new business of working with plants.

Some people may yawn. Yet planting seeds unleashes the power of life in a humble row of turnips. The infinitely complex process of life unfolds as the sun warms the soil.

Seeds, seemingly dead things, open with delicate roots and tiny leaves. Eventually an eggplant or an oak tree arises. The astounding transformation is exceedingly commonplace — like the sun coming up — but it amazes me each time I see seedlings or the sun appear.

Posted in Spring countdown

Tags:

Permalink

Spring Countdown: 7 days

Experience the living "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" through Columbus's Topiary Park http://www.topiarygarden.org

Experience the living “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” within Downtown Columbus’s Georges Seurat- inspired Topiary Park 

By Michael Leach

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” said American novelist Henry James.

Admittedly he probably was referring to an English summer afternoon, more like a late May afternoon in the Midwest. Yet in our region of often sultry summer afternoons, not to mention stifling dog days, summer afternoon still conjures a pleasantness unique to the season of school vacations, swimming pools and backyard barbecues.

Winter, on the other hand, offers little in the way of appealing — much less beautiful — word pairings. Does anyone ever want to read polar vortex again, much less survive it?

How about: mixed precipitation, freezing rain, ice storm, wind chill, snow emergency, road salt, snow shovel, ice scraper, record snowfall, record low, blizzard conditions, jackknifed semi, icy freeways, near whiteout or pot holes?

Some may cite “white Christmas” as beautiful winter words, but after this dreadful winter, is anyone dreaming of that yet?

Spring Countdown: 8 days

sticks

March: a wild corner of the yard; later to be covered with green. The grasses in the background will soon be cut down and added to the pile.

By Debra Knapke

one, two, buckle my shoe,

three, four shut the door

five, six, pickup sticks

seven, eight lay them straight

nine, ten, do it again!

This perfectly describes what I am doing in the yard right now.  Branches from two red oaks, sugar, silver and black maples, hackberries and a dawn redwood litter the front and back yard.  Even our stalwart ginkgo has lost branches this winter.  Wind and snow graced us this past winter, and there are many “hangers” in the trees and twigs on the ground.  It seems that there are more branches down this year than the “usual”.  Although, I’m beginning to wonder what “the usual” is anymore.

This bounty of branches goes into my wood compost pile or into a wild corner of our lot.  This is where Mother Nature can do what she wants.  Later in the season, Jerusalem artichoke will come up along with many plants some might call weeds: pokeberry (although, I only leave one or two; apologies to Mother Nature), thistles, dock, red clover, ironweed, goldenrod, cup plant and more.  I have not taken a picture of this area, because, well… it’s messy.

I also place the leaves of cut-down grasses here.  Need to do this soon.  These seemingly useless old leaves have been used by resident chickadees and wrens to build their nests.

Yesterday, as I wandered around the yard picking up sticks, I also catalogued the chores to come; can’t wait!

March:  the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

March: the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: