Category Archives: Spring chores

Garden Reflections

What a wonderful feeling to be in the garden from morning to night!  It is true, I can easily ‘pot around’ the garden all day… but not necessarily “work” all day.  There is a lot of reflection, the observing of nature at work and the changing of the landscape day by day.  There are breaks for snacks, planning and just finding a cozy spot to take in some sun.  Oh, I don’t mind saying it, I love to stay home and just enjoy my wild space out back.  Old friends come around again,  Yesterday, the House Wren arrived from his winter home. Straight to my back porch to the trellis were their bird house hung last year and they raised their brood.

House wren and her brood

House wren and her brood

Could it really be the same bird?  He knew exactly were to perch. There it sat singing loudly for his mate to come and join him!  And then there is this squirrel that lost half of its tail last year, -to Misha, my neighbors semi feral cat- I saw  it this morning digging around the garden for its forgotten acorns.  The hummingbirds always arrive the first week of May.  Last year, I was a bit late setting out the feeder and one hovered right in front of the french glass door for a good 30 seconds… right in front of me! it was magical, we stared at each other and it was as if it was saying:  Helloooo, were is my syrup?

So besides all the chores, the garden cleaning and planting, the mulching and composting, the rewards are in the sense of creating a small habitat outside your door that is both healthy and inviting and in a sustainable way, harbors life for so many other creatures.  Many we don’t even see or know are there. That is my reward.  Every creature and plant a prayer of hope.  Happy gardening friends!

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” 
― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring

Planning for Spring

First Day of Spring… Really?

First Day of Spring… Really?


And planning  is all we can do at this point considering what is going on out side! I was expecting a balmy day. Huge contrast to the last two years when I wrote about out great weather in early march.

As a continuation of my last post: Anticipating Spring, I realized there are more garden chores to add to the list.  After spending just one day doing much needed pruning on my shrub borders, I noted that the extreme freeze-thaw cycle we experienced caused many plants to heave out of the ground.  It is advisable to tend to them as soon as you can. Tamp them back in and add a bit of good garden soil around the roots to anchor and strengthen their hold. It was also a good opportunity to fix some of the protective netting that shelter some plants or areas from deer browsing and retying the stakes of young trees that had come loose.

Lets not forget our birds! Best time to clean and repair bird houses is now. I go over the inside of the box as well with a bar of soap.  A light coating prevents wasps from attaching their hives in the inside of the bird house. As long as there is a coating of snow in the ground I continue to feed the birds stopping when the ground is clear to encourage them to forage.  They do tend to get “hooked” on the feeders! If you are interested on learning more about birds, go to my favorite site at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, were the experts really know their stuff!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens,Great Expectations

Related Reading:

Feeding Birds

Nest Boxes

Anticipating Spring

I don’t know about you, but every March I am filled with this sense of impatience, when will the warm weather break through the bleak winter and will this really be the last snow fall of the season?  Getting a brief break does not help, the last couple of days for example, balmy, sunny and just beautiful. I was able to go for a walk in the garden and survey the damage. Today, back to single digits and snow back on the ground.  Tremendous disappointment! The real test will be to see how many perennials will come back after sustained single digit temperatures and so many freeze and thaw cycles.  So I grabbed a pad and paper and started to make a list of priorities:

My spring chores 

  1. Start vegetable seeds.  Since I grow Heirloom varieties I start long season vegetables indoors:  tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and leeks.
  2. Prune all broken or damaged branches of small trees and shrubs.
  3. Cut back any perennials and grasses left though the winter.
  4. Clean all leaves and other debris from perennial beds.
  5. Apply an organic seed germination inhibitor, such as corn gluten meal,  under my Rose of Sharon, and any other prolific seeders.
  6. Prune Privet hedge and any other small shrubs that bloom on new wood later in the season. Delay pruning early bloomers which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom.
  7.  Direct seed some cold tolerant vegetable varieties under cover in the vegetable beds. Usually this will be my leaf crops like Kale, Spinach and all salad greens.

I suppose I will tackle the lawn a bit later but when weather permits, it is time to start crossing off as many of these chores as possible.   Happy gardening!

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
― Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina

April Garden Chores

I know many of you are out in the garden eager to see plants growing and blooming.   I went out last week and started cleaning out the huge amount of oak leaves from my neighbors trees that end up in my beds.  Even though they look unsightly, it is a very environmentally sound practice to let the fall leaves stay on the perennial beds thru winter.  Many species of insect and amphibians find shelter and hibernate there for the winter.  So now that the weather has finally changed, off they go to my huge compost bin designated just for leaves.  In the fall leaves that lay on grass get mulched with our mulching mower as I explain here.  Some more spring chores:

  • Pruning.  This is the best time to prune some shrubs  and clean up any fallen branches from the yard.  The general rule is to prune in spring only shrubs that bloom on new wood.  Shrubs that bloom in early spring generally bloom on old wood or stems that formed last summer,  it is best to wait until after they bloom to cut back.  Some examples of early bloomers are Forsythia, Mahonia, Salix, Daphne, Deutzia, Azalea, Rhododendron and Weigela to name just a few. Read more about pruning in this post.
  • Divide Perennials.  Early spring is the ideal time to dig up and divide large clumps of perennials like Hostas, Iris, Pulmonaria, Brunnera and Lilly.  Although you can divide some perennials anytime during the summer, it is much easier to do it now when the crown be easily seen.  More here.
  • Hummingbird Feeders should be out by April 15 when  the first migrating hummers start showing up on their way north, sometimes so exhausted that a sip of nectar can replenish their energy and make a life or death difference.  Some may even choose to make a home in your garden!
  • Feeding and top dressing beds probably the best time to apply a bit of nutrients to the soil as needed.  I use good organic products for  my evergreens, Azaleas and Rhododendrons,  a light layer of composted soil mixed with mushroom manure on the perennial beds and fix any bare patches of lawn.

We all know that the work seems a bit daunting at this time of the year, but it is thrilling to see plants spring into life and discover that once more the cycle of life continues.  Enjoy the outdoors!

  “Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day-like writing a poem or saying a prayer”  -Anne Morrow Lindberg


Canna 'Tropicanna'

Canna ‘Tropicanna’

Nothing beats Cannas for a punch of dramatic color and beautiful foliage.  I find cannas extremely trouble free and easy to grow.  Native of South and Central America, they are not hardy in our area, –  zone 5-6 –  so it is necessary to dig the rhizomes before winter.  I generally do this right after the first frost, then store them in a frost free area of a basement or garage.   As I unwrapped them this morning here is how they looked.  Hard to believe they are even alive!

Canna rhizomes after winter dormancy.

Canna rhizomes after winter dormancy.

These are four times as many as I planted last spring and the product of just one plant I purchased at a box store in 2011.  I expect to have a respectable patch of cannas this year!  I will let them sit in a bit of water for a day and then plant them in individual pots to get them started indoors.  This will get them a head start and hopefully, they will bloom earlier and we can enjoy them longer in the garden.

“The earth is a garden and each of us only need care for our own part for life to be breathed back into the planet, into the soil, into ourselves.”

-John Jeavons

More Weeds?

Weeding in the spring seems to be never ending.  If you are lucky to have a landscaper that comes to edge and mulch, you are free to battle the war on weeds.  This year has been a bonanza for those opportunistic invasive plants that benefited from a very mild winter. Do I say this every year? Here is my rant about Garlic Mustard just last year.  although, I noticed that I wrote that in May, and that was an eye opener to me, as I have been weeding since March this year.

wavy bittercress, woodland bittercress Deutsch...

Bittercress, Cardamine pratensis

The worst offender this so far, and also a close relative of Garlic Mustard, and from the same family, Brassicaceae, is  Bittercress or Cardamine pretenses, also known as Cuckooflower, for the crazy way in which it bursts and tosses its seeds in all directions, just like Garlic Mustard.  And, it is everywhere:  In lawns, garden beds, paths and in between garden pavers.  It is a ferny floret with a ten to twelve inch shoots topped with small white flowers (Granted, early pollinators benefit from this early bloomer). But as with all invasive weeds, the ideal is to pull then before they set seed.  Fortunately this plant comes out very easily.  Mulch or plant your beds densely so there is not too much available real state for the unwanted weeds to establish.  Not my favorite pastime, I make it more bearable by listening to music or a good book while I work.  So I soldier on and dream of a day when I am finally done and I can flop on a chair and admire my work.

“A good garden may have some weeds.”
Thomas Fuller

Late Spring

Going over my notes from the last few years, -I keep a gardening diary- made me aware of how late everything is this year.  For the most part, in May of previous years, I have completed all weeding, edging and mulching is under way. This year, with all the wet weather and unseasonal cold temperatures, I am still weeding beds and have not even finished dividing my perennials.

Weeds are prolific this year too!  they love a wet spring.  Nunber one in my “Weed Alert” list  is  garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  For those of you who have come across it your garden, my advise is, get rid of it immediately!

I found some in an obscure corner of my garden.  As you can see, it has bloomed and has some seed pods which are formed but not mature yet.  Lucky me!  I still will not take any chances and dispose of the top of this plant in the trash!  It blooms the second year.  On the top of this picture you can see a rosette of a first year plant, I pulled that one too.

The next weed on this list is ground ivy or creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea).  Oh, it will go on even after I am gone.  I have come very close to abandoning my commitment to a complete organic lawn over this weed.  Once it takes hold, it goes on spreading and now it rules my lawn. I have done some research and some experts recommend applications of Borax an organic fabric detergent that will not harm the soil of its multitude of inhabitants.  Another thing to consider is that this type of weed is a red flag for an existing  soil imbalance.  Correcting the Ph of the soil by making it more alkaline will discourage most weeds.  I will let you know who wins.  Please let me know if you have had any luck eradicating this weed.

“But each spring…a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground.” –– Lewis Gantt


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I just came back from Seattle where the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival   is in full swing.  We visited the Roozengaarde Nursery and  I was quite impressed by the beautiful gardens and miles of fields full of row upon row of tulips and daffodils in different colors and varieties.  Check out the slide show.

In the meantime, here in Western Pa. seems that rains have graced our gardens for most of the past week.  I was looking forward to getting back in my garden and get things under way… not so fast!  The ground is saturated and very soggy, it is not advisable to walk on very wet soil as it compresses the soil damaging the intricate fibers and delicate roots.  Once it dries, the soil stays compressed and hardens.

So, I am exercising a bit of patience until things dry up a bit.  I did step out and stayed on drier parts of the garden, weeded by the paths, applied Liquid Fence and Preen to keep those weeds from germinating.  waiting for a few dry days.

“God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done.”  ~Author Unknown


Galanthus nivalis, Amaryllidaceae, Common Snow...

Galanthus Nivalis 

Have you stopped to listen to the birds calling from the trees? They are so in tune with the weather you can feel their excitement! Everywhere I look there are signs of rebirth, birds are looking for mates and nesting places, the first flowers of spring, our ephemerals, are blooming or getting ready to burst any day.  In my garden and throughout  our area, spring Crocus are the first to bloom. Then, SnowdropsDaffodils and Bloodroot.  These trio I prefer to Crocus or Tulips because deer and rabbits leave them alone, and we actually get to enjoy the blooms!

Probably the best thing to do as we enjoy some sunshine and balmy temperatures, is complete all major pruning before trees and shrubs come out of dormancy. Trim off dead or broken branches, thin out multi stemmed bushes to increase circulation and promote new growth.  Remove tallest branches to a ‘y’ to reduce height and keep the shrub looking shapely and balanced.

Contract for a yard cleanup or start the cleanup yourself, if you have space in your yard, all leaves and soft wood clippings can go in a compost pile.  Leaves could be ready, with the right conditions, to use for mulch by fall.

Let’s get out and enjoy the flowers!

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”  ~Mark Twain

March is Finally Here

A germinated seedling (Eranthis hyemalis) emer...

Image via Wikipedia

And with the arrival of March, snow finally melted, and the ground reasonably dry, it is time to start stepping out into the garden.  As I look outside on this glorious sunny day, my mind runs down a long list of chores that need to be attended to and at the very least today, a walk thru the garden, armed with paper and pencil, will be a big step to assess winter damage and what needs my immediate attention.

I  have spent many hours this winter pouring thru catalogues (haven’t we all?), reading, planning and dreaming of all the improvements and new plants to add to the garden this year.  But the most important decision was to start laying the ground for a vegetable patch.  In my area, first thing that needs to be taken into consideration is a deer fence.  Oh deer, ever present on the thoughts of a gardener.  I have become accustomed to looking up every plant I covet for its deer resistance. See the complete list here.

Without even going outside, I know that top on my list for March chores are to put down a seed germination inhibitor, check my viburnums for Viburnum Leaf Beetle eggs before they hatch in spring,  these tiny caterpillars will defoliate the new buds of the shrub and stunt its growth.  Look for little bumps in between leaf nods on the tips of the branches.  I cut those and dispose of them in the garbage not the compost pile.  I also like to cut  some branches from Forsythia and Japanese cherry for forcing and do some of my shrub pruning before they leaf out,  this is when you can more easily see the overall structure of the shrub, taking into consideration those early spring bloomers, I want to make sure not to cut off my spring blooms!

Well, I am off to the garden, more of spring, chores and plants later.

“Springtime is the land awakening.  The March winds are the morning yawn.” ~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard inKathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You