Spring Garden Tips (Tip #1: Don’t Rush It)
By Madaline Sparks
Spring is definitely not busting out all over! Two weeks ago, when it hit 73º, and the air held that promise of the season to come, I did spot daffodil and daylily shoots that were up about two inches, so that proves it is coming… eventually. This latest onslaught of extreme weather, with March roaring in a like a lion, downing trees and breaking branches, is an unwelcome setback, but will be just a memory in not too many weeks. At this time of year, my annual garden anxiety, mixed with excited anticipation, is simmering. Anxiety about all the chores I did not get done last season and the plethora of tasks that await, and anticipation to see how the things I transplanted and plants I installed last year will fare this year.
March is a confusing time for garden advice. It’s so dependent on what the weather is doing where you are. In our area, despite the temptation of a day or two of early warm weather, it’s best to tap the brakes before diving in. It’s a waiting game not to work in soggy soil. Tromping around in the garden beds when they are too wet will compact and ruin your soil structure. You need to wait until the daytime temps are consistently in the 50s so the soil has time to firm up.
If you can’t wait to get out there (when this latest snowpack melts), clean up debris on the lawn, like fallen branches and islands of packed fall leaves. And, if you’re able to do it without stepping in the beds, carefully remove matted leaves from the soil surface where spring bulbs are emerging. Don’t grab a rake and have at it, though. Gently lift the layers so the tender shoots aren’t damaged. As soon as I remove the leaves, I always spray a generous dose of deer repellent over the exposed shoots to discourage the hungry herd from thinking the salad bar is open for business. I continue to spray regularly so each week’s new growth is treated. Until I started using this method of protection, I never saw what color my tulips were. You may use a rake to remove packed down leaves from the yard. Leaving them on the grass deprives it of light and air, both needed for the greening-up process. It also helps remove thatch, a buildup of dead turfgrass tissue lying between the green vegetation of the grass above and the root system and soil below.
If you didn’t get a chance to cut back last year’s perennials or left them up for winter interest or bird food, remove the dead stalks and seed heads before they break dormancy. Again, don’t jump on this task too soon, but gauge the timing right. Once they start to push too much new growth, it is much fussier and time-consuming work to remove the old and not damage the new. Go ahead and get rid of last year’s foliage on ornamental grasses as soon as you can get to them. You can cut them back to the base to allow the new blades to emerge, which they will do when the soil and air temperatures are right, to avoid the new growth getting tangled up in last year’s thatch.
If you’re a seed starter, certain varieties can’t wait and you know what to do and when to do it. If you are a rookie, A Way to Garden has a handy planting calculator for when to start what and lots of expert advice just for the RI region, courtesy of garden guru Margaret Roach.
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