March 2016 Edition
Our Second Best Season of the Year
This is it! Our second best season of the year to plant new trees, shrubs and perennials. The nurseries are loaded so make a list before you go shopping or you know what will happen. I have put myself on strict restriction from impulse buying. Somehow it always sneaks up on me anyway. Be strong!
Saving time in the garden
This is a well known truth about gardening. If you time your work for Spring and Fall, the summer and winter chores are light and the garden flourishes. Low maintenance gardens are actually just gardens that are timed right. March and April are the months to fertilize with a good organic fertilizer, replenish mulch 3-4” thick over all the bare ground (remember to keep mulch 12” away from stems and trunks), and water in well. Cacti, succulents and native plants don’t need fertilizer for the most part. Acid loving plants require specialized fertilizers as do roses, fruit trees and the vegetable garden.
It is time to get out your pruning equipment and “go to town”. That means all the winter bloomers can be cut back by 1/3 with selective shaping. Please do not use electric trimmers to make balls and squares out of your beautiful shrubs. This is not a very nice way to treat a plant that wants to grow to its own individual shape. It is best to study the natural shapes of the plant itself (low mounds, upright, wide spreading, or open growing shrubs). From the main branching structure select a few leaders and cut them back into the foliage judiciously. This will keep the plant compact while maintaining the characteristic shapes. If you want more height on a shrub or tree, taking off the lower branches to the main trunks will generally send it up. If you want less height, taking down the top branches, if appropriate, will generally send it out. It is best to cut the stems and branches, not the leaves themselves. Most shrubs look better with the leaves in their full shape and not cut through the middle. This really doesn’t take much extra time and the plant looks good right away. Not like a bad haircut that will need to grow in before it looks good.
Speaking of haircuts, it is time to shear those ornamental grasses down to about 6” clumps. They will grow back quickly and fresh without all the dried up stalks.
Vegetable and Herb Gardens
Herbs are easy to grow and taste so much better fresh. Edible herbs to plant in the summer garden are sage, basil, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme and marjoram. They look nice mixed in with your vegetables and take the same care. Rosemary and mint should be grown separately in containers or out in the garden as part of the landscape. Keep in mind that mint is invasive and requires lots of water to do well.
Vegetables need full sun to be successful. If you are building a raised bed, orient it from north to south so the sun will cross over it from side to side. Taller crops should be on the north end and shorter crops on the south end. The garden should ideally be placed on the south side of the house for full sun exposure away from trees that might shade the garden area.
Summer vegetables to plant now are tomatoes, spinach, green beans and corn. It is best to wait until next month to plant cucumbers, squash, eggplant, melons, peppers, and pumpkins. Crops that you can plant year round are potatoes, beets, carrots, chard, turnips and radishes. Artichokes and asparagus tend to take over the world so it is best to plant these separately in containers or out in the garden as a part of the landscape.
Some winter vegetables are still going and the seasons overlap with the spring planting of the summer vegetables. This makes it a bit more difficult. You have the choice to pull everything out and start fresh or make room for the summer crops among the winter vegetables until they are finished producing.
Spring rains bring out the snails and slugs. Sad but true. You can eat the European snail if you like or just get rid of them. This is something that just has to be done. Start early before you are buried in the little critters. They come out at night. You can go out with a flashlight and pick them off the plants, put them in tightly tied plastic bags and dispose them in the trash can. You can step on them but the eggs will survive. You can set out traps like upside down grapefruit rinds, loose lettuce or cabbage leaves, upside down flower pots or plastic nursery pots. Collect them in the early morning and dispose of them daily. You can set out beer traps so they drown or let the ducks and chickens out. A last resource would be to use Sluggo, a chemical bait harmless to humans and pets. Treat twice to make sure that you kill the parents and the offspring (usually 10 to 14 days apart).
Gophers start moving around in the garden again once the ground is soft. They go straight for your new plants and chew up the roots. Rabbits are also on the move and can take your new flowers down in one night. Poisons are not a good choice in any environment as it upsets Nature’s delicate balance. Trapping is the most reliable method to rid the garden of these pests. Natural predators such as coyotes, snakes, dogs, cats, owls and hawks are helpful, however not always thorough. The only foolproof method of protecting your plants, lawns, gardens and trees is with physical barriers. This means using wire mesh to lay under lawns and garden beds, around the newly planted shrubs and trees, fencing in areas of ground cover and flowers, and making baskets or plant pockets to protect the roots until they are mature enough to withstand these attacks. It might look like your plants are in jail for awhile but at least you can sleep better at night. after your evening snail gathering exercises.
contact Marilyn’s Garden Design.