5/1/15: In the garden this week

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Our gorgeous native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, is slowly opening its bracts to reveal the tiny flowers hidden inside.

What a busy week it’s been! I am out with clients or in at the computer all day; I get to work on my own perennials and shrubs only in short, stolen moments of time, and I don’t have time for the vegetable garden at all. Finally spring is here, most plants have emerged (except for some milkweeds and Ruellia, always the last to appear), and it’s time to divide and move and plant NOW. The cool weather is great for spring gardening, giving newly installed plants more time to make roots. We could use a little more rain, however.

Here’s what you should be doing in your garden this week:

weed! This is the perfect time to rid your property of garlic mustard and to pull out tiny seedlings of annoying plants like English ivy and Norway maples (those are my particular annoyances; every property has some). Garlic mustard is blooming now, so get it before it seds seed.

continue to 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 luck you’ll have fresh salad greens in about 6 weeks.

— If you started cold-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. Wait until late May to set out tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant.

— now that most perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year.

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 needs doing. Do any areas need new mulch? Will your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage? Do it as soon as new growth appears.

— 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. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

monitor your garden for bird activity. Birds are very active at foraging and nest building. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks 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, 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. (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.)

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: wait until Memorial Day to fertilize. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials.

— We had a dry week, so water new plantings: Give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring will need supplemental watering during dry spells throughout this entire growing season. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants.

It’s almost time to put out the garden furniture–enjoy the spring weekend!

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Flowers of Aronia melanocarpa, black chokeberry, are about to bloom.

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