Tuesday Tips

–by Donna Mitchell

It’s spring! Hooray! I know this because my calendar says it is (today–Happy Vernal Equinox!) I also know this because the weather is wonderful (at least this week), the robins, cormorants and loons are back, and a hawk has occasionally visited our yard, hopefully to eliminate the field mice that sometimes visit inside the house. There are live outdoor plants to buy at various garden centers, and green things are starting to pop up around the yard. For me, that means it’s time to work in the garden.

So, if you didn’t clean out your flower beds last fall, it’s time to do it before the perennials move past the baby stage and the debris is harder to access. Last week my husband worked on the cleanup and I attacked the rose bushes, which responded by attacking me back. I should have worn my leather gloves which go halfway up to my elbow, but one finger had a hole in it and I thought it would bug me too much. My scratches bugged me more. I should have pruned them in the fall, but the important thing is to cut out all the dead wood and cut back the unbalanced and flag-waving crazy long canes before the new growth gets going. Roses are usually so hardy they can be pruned anytime. I don’t know if that’s the practice recommended by professionals, but it works for me. If any of them start getting out of line, waving a branch that says, “Look at me, look at me, I’m so tall!”, I cut them down to size whenever I catch them at it (maybe it’s jealousy…). Cut just above a growth node (or obvious new growth); anything longer will just die back to that point anyway.

It’s also time to check for poison ivy if you think you might have a problem. The nice thing about poison ivy in spring is that the new leaves are red, while most baby leaves are green. This makes them much easier to spot and treat. There are certain herbicides which are more effective than others, designed for poison ivy and made by several manufacturers. It’s so much easier to kill poison ivy with poison rather than trying to pull it up while wearing all kinds of protective clothing and gear, not touching your skin with anything that has touched poison ivy, and washing all your clothes as soon as possible while trying not to touch any part that might have touched the poison ivy…You get the picture. Still–wear long clothes, and don’t wear sandals. Yes, this is the voice of paranoia, the result of a little gap between glove and long sleeve. Once bitten, twice shy.

There are also lots of new weeds in both gardens and lawns, which are more easily treated now than later. Pull them, use a cultivator for some weeds (the claw thing) or a weeder for dandelions, which have a long taproot. (I call it a snake’s tongue when describing it to helpers because it is a long rod with a little fork at the end, easy to poke several inches underground.) Or use chemicals: read labels carefully to determine what you need.

We are also going to start seeing more bugs. I seem to be invaded by ants every year no matter what I did the year before. Last year got to the point that they were attacking the butter dish I kept on the counter to avoid hard spreading. I bought a unique pottery butter container, which I think is a French design with two parts. The butter is softened and put into a small cup (without side handle) which is turned upside down and placed into a slightly larger cup/pot which has 1/2″ to 3/4″ of cold water in the bottom. The water seals off the butter from the air and nonswimmers. Voila! No ants, at least in the butter. The water is supposed to be changed daily to keep the butter fresh.

Well, that’s all the tips I can think of. The most fun is seeing plants you put in last year or before, coming back bigger and stronger and more beautiful. But once they were small, new babies from the nursery, just like the ones calling to me now. This year I’m going to plant some lilacs, $12 for two at BJ’s.

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