Spring: Much Ado about Many Things

I mentioned in my last column that Maia, most beautiful and shy goddess of spring, has returned. So much so in May, that John Keats sought to sing to her and seek her smiles with no concern that his song might only be heard by the "quiet primrose" or the "span of heaven". And if it "should die away", he would be "rich in the simple worship of a day". These quotes are from a fragment Keats wrote, "Ode to May" in 1818.

Such is the natural beauty of the month of May. And we are immersed in it. And, it is our involvement with our natural world that connects us by invisible threads to the very earth we celebrate. And, in celebration we interact and prepare for the coming growing season in all its many dimensions.

Yes, it's Garden Calendar time. I have an abundance of suggested activities and chores and pleasurable tasks that I think you are happy to be reminded of. No gardener can remember them all, especially me. I am blessed with a wonderful filing system, self imposed, to keep me on track if I am to be useful to anyone, including myself. (As an aside, I recently completed a quick search on plant societies and found no less that 859 listings and numerous links. We got game! we gardeners.)

If you maintain any space in lawn, you've no doubt noticed active growth in areas. Clean and sharpen blades of your mower if not done last fall. Set the height to 3 inches. It's time to cut if you won't remove more than about one-third of the total leaf blade. If the grass is longer than that, cut it twice. The clippings can be left behind to add nitrogen to the soil.

Staying lawn focused for a moment, in defense of lawns, they buffer harsh sounds, cool the environment, visually add peace and repose to the landscape, and serve as a great visual foil for annual and perennial flower beds, as well as flowering trees and shrubs. If the weather conditions are dry, it's important to add moisture at the rate of at least an inch of water a week in the absence of rainfall.

Two other lawn concerns at this time of year to consider: one, now is the time to apply broadleaf weed controls (herbicides), and now is the time to apply many turfgrass insect controls (insecticides). Always follow label directions. If you wish to give the lawn a boost for faster overall green-up, the best time to apply a slow release fertilizer is Memorial Day weekend, assuming moisture has been sufficient and will continue to be available.

Now is a good time to prune, renovate and just plain shape hedges. It doesn't matter what kind they are. Just remove about half of last years growth. This should be pretty evident upon close examination. Remember the top should always be narrower than the bottom. Look to taper the hedges. This enables the entire surface to receive maximum sunlight and will result in the most voluptuous growth.

Flowers are something we all look forward to and enjoy for as long as they are in evidence. To do real justice to those providing the color show, remove the spent flowers before seed pods form. In the case of bulbs like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, etc. leave the foliage so it can provide food to the bulb for next year's blossoms. Newly planted strawberries should have all blooms removed to strengthen next year's production of fruit. As for spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia and quince, you can prune and shape for the coming season as soon as flowers fall off.

Weeding can be a meditation. Several gardeners I know look on weeding as an exercise in self-fulfillment. Every weed plucked before flowering is a weed denied many generations through self-seeding. Get 'em as soon as you see 'em. One day your gardens may be nearly weed free. "Nearly" because many are blow-ins, not ones you overlooked. Careful diligence will even get these.

Slugs are a perennial problem. Some hints: spray them with a mixture of 1/ 2 cup ammonia, 1 T Murphy's Oil Soap and 1-1/2 cups water; bait them with raw potatoes; sprinkle the ground with corn meal and they'll explode. Most of all, recall last years trouble spots.

Harvest asparagus and rhubarb into early to mid-June. Remove rhubarb seed stalks as soon as observed.

When petals fall from fruit trees, and there is no danger to honey bees and other pollinators, it is the optimum time to apply a multi-purpose fruit tree spray to allay insect and disease problems. These contain both an insecticide and a fungicide. Always follow label directions. I am of a more organic bent, and don't mind cutting out a section of wormy fruit or scabby apple or visiting my local purveyor. I wash the fruit well.

If skunks and moles are digging up and disfiguring your lawn, they are likely after grubs, which in spring are fat and juicy and a real treat to both. Because they've spent the entire winter and early spring feeding on grass roots, they are big and strong, and it is for this reason that now is not the best time to treat lawn areas with chemicals, because they will be very resistant to the standard ones. More chemicals is not the answer.

Timing is the answer. They hatch from eggs laid in the soil in July. They are very young and very vulnerable to treatments in August and September. This is the best time to go after them. They are still close to the surface, too. They go deeper as it gets colder. There is a new generation of chemicals used to treat the big fat ones now, but, obviously the chemicals are stronger and more toxic. You decide. I just suggest.

I know you're getting ready to put in some tender vegetables as soon as you believe the risk of a hard frost has passed. Row covers are a boon to home gardeners because they not only protect young plants from insects seeking host plants on which to lay eggs, but row covers also buffer the extremes of weather, just at the time it's questionable. Here in the Catskills it's always a surprise.

In my next column I will attempt to distract you with a different take on container gardening. Just for the length of time it takes to read it. I don't want you to neglect your familiar gardening pleasures. I just want to share a "eureka" moment, or maybe just a,"I wish I'd thought of that!".


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on May 19, 2004

© 2004 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.