It’s turning out to be another dry spring. Despite the series of strong storms we’ve experienced recently, we’ve had less than 2 inches of rain over the past 30 days. This means that plants you installed last fall, as well as those you put in this spring, need supplemental water. Woody species in particular need extra water during dry spells for at least a year while they’re becoming established: aim for at least an inch a week. The main reason plants don’t survive is insufficient water while they’re becoming established.
Have you ordered your plants yet? The major mail-order suppliers of natives are running out of the most popular plants, so if you were intending to order but keep putting it off, do it now! Some suppliers have started shipping, and local nurseries will receive most of their spring shipments within the next six weeks.
In addition to ordering your plants, here’s what you can do in the garden this week:
— divide hardy perennials and grasses. Many of the toughest native plants–many grasses, asters, rudbeckias, boltonia, columbine, to name just a few–have been in active growth for weeks. I start dividing as soon as each species is ready, and I try to do it right before it rains (saves watering). I’ve been at it for 2-3 weeks and have enlarged several beds to receive these divisions and others later in the season.
— you should have cleaned up the vegetable garden last fall, but if you didn’t, do it now! Remove dead plants and weeds, spread compost or rotted manure to prepare for spring planting.
— because the nights are still cool, continue to direct-sow seeds of cool-weather crops such as lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, arugula and peas.
— start vegetable seeds for warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and squash. You can find a list of dates for starting seeds in this post.
— Weed! Dig up wild garlic and dandelions and pull garlic mustard, which is about to flower. This noxious weed is particularly easy to remove–grab the base of the plant, and unless the soil is compacted, you’ll get the whole root system in one firm tug. It’s too late to pull western bittercress, which has already gone to seed. Mustards go to seed particularly early, so it’s a good idea to pull them as soon as you recognize them. And they’re easy to pull.
— as weeds and lawn grasses begin to grow, neaten the edges of your perennial and shrub beds. It’s easier to do it now, when the weeds’ and grasses’ root systems are relatively small, than it will be once the weather turns warm.
— if you’re planning on ordering native plants from specialty nurseries, get your order in now! Many companies are already sold out of the most popular plants. Some companies have started shipping. Once the plants arrive, get them in the ground as soon as you can. If you must hold them for a few days, put them in the shadiest spot you can find.
— if you or your lawn service has sown grass seed, water several times a day until the grass is up. Otherwise you’re just scattering birdseed. And it’s much too early to fertilize the lawn. Wait until Memorial Day. Even better, don’t fertilize at all this year. I bet the grass will do just fine.
This will be a gorgeous weekend to be out in the garden. Enjoy!