Diggin’ in the dirt: Steps to gardening at this time of year

Spring has arrived, although apparently “Old Man Winter” forgot to close the door on his way out. These slightly warmer, sunnier, longer days are so welcoming. The smell of spring fills the air, guiding geese and robins back north — it puts a smile on this writer’s winter-weary face.

Personally, I’m itching to rake out the winter debris from garden beds, although I know better. Those “blankets” are still protecting brave new hearts from lingering cold temps. Yes, snowdrops, crocus, and stars of Bethlehem are starting to peek out! They are wondering if it’s safe. Such color will prove a relief from the past season’s white, grey, and brown. Who doesn’t bounce with a skip in their step? Better snowdrops emerging from the ground than snowflakes dropping down from above!

watering can_330pxIf compelled to rake, do so gently. Most early spring flowers rip or jump ship if you apply too much pressure to their heads. On the other hand, irises can handle the tug, but don’t be surprised if you need clippers to complete the task, as iris leaves don’t give up so easily. This is a good time to lift and separate (just like a Playtex bra), to share with friends, or to just move about to increase your beds.

Stroll around the yard picking up downed or broken branches and pile them in an obscure spot. Perhaps they’ll make good fodder for a future bonfire. Examine trees for snapped or damaged limbs, and lop accordingly. Falling dead branches are called widow makers for a reason. Clip out unsightly brown spots from evergreens. Fruit trees, bushes, canes, and roses will benefit from being pruned down to new growth.

Inventory your tool shed. Clean, sharpen, or replace any tools in need. Now is the perfect time to spray paint handles a bright pink, red, or orange. When you’re precariously balanced in a yoga-like position straddling newly planted seedlings, the last thing you need is for your brown-handled (thus harder to see) trowel or weeder to go M.I.A.

Are all of your supplies aboard for the season at hand? Do you have string for the weed whacker, sharp, shiny blades in the lawn mower, hoses that are in good repair, a tiller ready and waiting? And gloves — don’t forget the gloves! What the heck, even treat yourself to a good hand moisturizer, sun hat, and sunblock. A wish list posted on the fridge proves beneficial to both the giver and receiver.

Go ahead and start seedlings. Be wise with this project, as seeds can be pricey and thus the amount dear. Ensure plenty of sunshine for their heads and warmth for their bottoms, and never let the soil dry out completely. If you feel that there’s not enough natural sunlight, hang a grow light on chains 2” above the trays. As the seedlings grow, keep raising the lights to ensure a consistent 2” head room. Warm, moist soil usually ensures good propagation results. A heating element can be purchased at most garden centers, through a catalog or online. They are a bit pricey, but worth the splurge. As the second, third, and fourth sets of leaves emerge, you may want to thin seedlings out.

Salad greens, peas, tomatoes, and herbs (by which I mean basil, basil, and more basil) are good to start ASAP. Marigolds are easy, provide a blast of color throughout the garden, and once brushed against, release an aroma that some insects don’t care for.

An Independent Gazette reader asked, “What, if any, natural deterrents keep deer and rabbits from nibbling the tops of tulips?” Placing Granny in the garden with a shotgun, or adopting a vicious dog would work . . . just kidding! To keep critters from grazing the newly emerging “salad bar,” stake black mesh plastic netting. This can be purchased at most nursery centers. The smaller the gauge of net, the more “invisible” to the animals’ eyes. Use some of those sticks you’ve picked up around the yard as stakes (making sure they are taller than the soon-to-be flowers), placing them securely into the ground. Pull the mesh taught and secure it to the stakes with twisty ties. The netting should drape to soil level and be anchored at the bottom with more sticks or rocks. A word to the wise, however: the one drawback to using fine mesh is that it will catch on buttons, barretts, glasses, buckles, overhanging branches, and earrings. You may want to have a scissor handy while gardening.

Time to wake up the dahlias and cannas you lifted last autumn. If space is available, start them in pots and plant them when the soil warms. It gives you a jump in regard to blossoms, and they transplant with grace and ease. Most roots can be divided to increase the bounty, just make certain there are at least three “eyes” per bulb. The “eyes” resemble sprouts on potatoes left for too long.

Finally, welcome and enjoy the spring with open arms. Have you hugged your dogwood today?

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