4/3/15: In the garden this week

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Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucularia) blooming last year in mid-April. It typically blooms around April 1. Last spring, like this one, was late.

My soil is too sandy and dry for the more spectacular early spring ephemerals like bloodroot and Virginia bluebells to do well, so I rely on Dutchman’s breeches for my early spring color (although last year some critter cropped the flower stalks short, as you can see in the photo). “Early” is a relative term. The coming week’s predicted warm weather will help speed things up, but we’re about two weeks behind a normal spring. Nevertheless, if holiday celebrations leave you any time to spend in the garden, there are things you can be doing:

direct sow seeds of early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes. They’ll germinate and grow slowly at first, but with any luck you’ll have fresh salad greens in about 6 weeks. Sow a new crop every two weeks to ensure a continuous supply of spring greens until the weather heats up.

— as you see new growth emerge, begin to clean up your perennial beds. Grab a handful of stalks hear the ground and gently bend them to break them off. Rake the detritus away and either compost it on site or, if you don’t have room for it, take it to your town’s compost center.

evaluate the winter’s damage on your property. Don’t remove dead wood or broken branches unless they pose hazards to people or property, because they might be supplying food or shelter to winter-weary creatures, but see what will need doing. How much mulch will you need? Will your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage?

— it’s not too late to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4 inch layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area now to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant in late April or May.

monitor your garden for bird activity. Spring migrants are arriving and winter residents are very active at foraging and nest building. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks winter food. There should still be perennial seeds, berries of less desirable plants, and leaf litter and dead wood for the birds to search for insects. If you’re not seeing birds now, consider what you can do this season to attract them: for example, plant native perennials, stop pruning dead wood quite so aggressively, stop using pesticides.

order your perennials and woody plants now to get the best selection. (Most local nurseries sell only a very few native species, so I rely on mail order and on specialty nurseries that are up to four hours away.) If you wait until it’s time to plant, nurseries will be sold out of many species.

— buy your vegetable seeds and start them indoors according to this schedule so the seedlings will be ready for spring planting.

— last but not least, water last year’s plantings as needed. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted in the fall need supplemental watering during dry spells throughout this entire growing season.

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The lovely trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a diminutive member of the lily family. Named for its dappled leaves, it graces many of our local parks in early spring. If you have moist soil and shade, you can grow it.

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