Ah! Spring!

Last evening, at 8:07 P.M. EDT, the spring or vernal equinox took place here in the northern hemisphere. Imagine, six months of 12 (beginning today) hours of daylight building to 15 hours by June 21st, and then slowly receding back to 12 by Sept. 23rd.

We must not let this abundance of light go to waste. It's time for growing and nurturing. It's time for putting the memory of those bone chilling cold days behind us. It's time to move forward into the rejuvenating warmth of the sun and the aromas of the earth.

Unnoticed by many of us, the very moment of the equal night-equal day event is monumental in its significance and symbolism. It is celebrated in ancient and modern religions worldwide. Most are related to fertility in man, animals and vegetation. Rebirth and renewal are central themes. In 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated and proselytized on the day of the equinox, that year the 22nd. (It coincided with the first day of the astrological calendar. Does that speak to anyone?)

Not very surprising, a large number of calendars are based on this celestial event. Celebrations and festivals concerned with myths involving creation and cosmology are common around the globe. Astronomers, astrologers, Easter celebrators and the commercial industry that evolved, all have a lot to celebrate in one way or another.

But, we have to look to a few pleasures of our "other" selves. These bond us for a while to the earth to which we are so connected. As sentimental beings, we need to feel the sun, smell the earth, grow something we can eat, experience the lowly earthworms, the birds, caterpillars, moths, butterflies. It is this connection that sustains us; it is so much broader than just "us".

As if working as a cohort, Daylight Savings Time (premature this year) moved into play ten days ago. The illusion is useful if you are welcome to it. It's an artificial construct for which I am happy.

In my last column, I urged gardeners to experiment. Be adventurous, I said. Today, I received a lovely "Garden Art" card from dear friends. It contained a packet of seeds. The card was inscribed, "Try something different!" The seeds are Solanum integrifolium, aka Pumpkin Tree Seeds among other nicknames. I can hardly wait to germinate them and give some out to friends and like-minded acquaintances. Maybe I'll report on this later.

The first order of the new season is to spend more time outdoors. On a nice mild day pruning should begin. Prune apples, pears, raspberries, grapes, currants, blueberries, gooseberries and all summer blooming deciduous trees and shrubs that blossom on new wood. The result will be improved health and structure, greater fruitfulness, and more blossoms.

Even plants with flower buds that set last year such as rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels, hollies, andromedas, lilacs, and forsythia, to name some, can be pruned for structure or renovation. Remove excessive growth and dead wood and correct winter damage by careful pruning.

You could wait until after flowering, but then the foliage will obscure the architecture. Sacrifice some blooms and do it earlier. The plants will rebound with renewed vigor. All the conditions are right. The plants are dormant, temperatures are cool, and soil is moist. As plants begin to actively grow, healing of pruning cuts will be speedy. Always make sure your pruning tools are kept sharp and clean.

When temperatures are expected to stay above 40 degrees F for 24 to 48 hours, spray fruit trees and other tree and shrub favorites with dormant oil according to label directions. This is a great control for killing over wintering pests.

As bulb foliage appears, fertilize the beds with 3 lbs. of 5-10-10 per hundred square feet. Rhubarb and asparagus beds will benefit from 1 and 1/2 lbs. of 5-10-10 per 25 feet of row now, and a second application in July.

Late season snows are often heavy, wet and potentially very damaging to evergreens. Don't wait for snow to stop. Remove it as it accumulates to the benefit of your trees and shrubs.

If ground is not snow covered or frozen, take a soil sample for a pH test. The sample should come from the root zone, typically 4 to 6 inches down.

Avoid as much as possible walking on lawns and garden beds if soil is very wet. When the soil is dry enough to work, clean up the gardens and beds. Add soil amendments and work into the top few inches. Rake lawns to remove dead grass and leaves. Mulch pathways to suppress weed growth.

If soil temperature is 50 degrees F, sow peas, spinach and radish seeds. Plant onion, shallot and garlic sets. Start some vegetable seeds indoors: broccoli, early cabbage, cauliflower, early celery, head lettuces, and peppers. Tender annuals and perennials can be started indoors, and established perennials can be divided and replanted.

Now is the second best time of the year to plant most hardy perennials, trees and shrubs. They are still dormant, and 50 degree F soil will gradually warm with the plant as it breaks dormancy. Our usual rainy spring season will do the rest.

In the vegetable and flowerbeds, remember to plan a water source for birds, frogs and toads, perches for birds, and rock piles or two for snakes. Providing for gardeners' allies will greatly reduce garden pests such as rodents, slugs, grubs, cutworms and a host of plant damaging insects.

Herbs attract beneficial predatory insects and lots of pollinators. Their culinary and medicinal uses beg for more space.

Houseplants will begin to show more active growth. Inspect to see if any need repotting. It is safe to begin fertilizing them with half-strength fertilizer. If you have or purchase tuberous begonias, they may be started indoor now in bright light but not hot sun. There should be some substantial top growth in four or five weeks and they might then be repotted.

Last years growth on perennial plants should be cut back if it wasn't in the fall. Ornamental grasses are included. This is an opportunity to scrutinize these and see which might be divided this year or next.

I could go on, but I'm getting tired thinking about all there is to start. I'm not as young as I used to be. Until my next column, please permit me...

    Oh, talk not to me of a name great in story;
    The days of our youth are the days of our glory;
    And the myrtle and ivy of sweet two-and-twenty
    Are worth all your laurels, though ever so plenty.

    (Byron, Stanzas Written on the Road between Florence and Pisa)


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on March 21, 2007

© 2007 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.