Breaking News U.S.A

Chive snipping, rhubarb leafing, the scents of soil in the spring! Oh, and the pansies – Twin Cities

It’s cold and rainy, but spring is in the air!

I’ve been getting the garden ready all week, rain or shine, and reveling in the mineral scents of damp soil coming to life, scents now laced with manure thanks to my chickens.

They, too, are excited to be back outside. Their exuberance forced me to answer a question I keep putting off.

Will my small urban yard remain a garden, or will it turn into a farm?

Chickens love to run free, and they are like goats in that they will eat just about anything.

The other day I watched one of them maneuver a 6-inch-long thread she’d pecked from a tarp down her long skinny gullet.

Why? I kept asking her. Those are empty calories, girl … SO not worth it!

That she accomplished this improbable feat underscores the danger to plants.

So I went with Plan A. My yard will remain a garden and my hens placed behind bars.

To compensate, I enlarged the run substantially. It now extends the full length of the garage. Its spacious window boxes, which used to contain a glorious abundance of flower color, now contain a glorious abundance of feather color.

Bathing in dirt may seem counter-intuitive, but chickens are not like ducks. They don’t like being wet.

The girls are allowed in this new section only during daylight hours. Then nature calls. All five of them toddle off to the coop at the stroke of sunset. At some point I close the door after them to protect them from predators.

The new chicken fence is about 5 feet tall and made of faux wrought-iron panels, the kind you can rearrange endlessly because the rods that hold them erect are not stuck in cement but soil.

Such fencing is invaluable for a whole host of garden projects. I use it to keep rabbits from sneaking through the pickets of the wood fence that surrounds my yard, and to support climbing vines, and even to train (espalier) apple trees.

This is the perfect time to set up rain barrels.

I dip a watering can in mine to give pots and baskets a quick drink. A friend of mine reserves one of her several barrels just for this purpose; it’s the only one in which she adds Miracle Gro, to replenish nutrients that leach out of containers.

You can also hook up a hose to an “official” rain barrel (these have a spigot attached) and the hose to a sprinkler.

Rain barrels are usually placed under gutters, but I collect rainwater elsewhere in the garden, too, not just in rain barrels but in large troughs and ceramic containers and even plastic garbage bins.

It’s been a very wet spring, but these days you never know when Mother Nature will turn off the spigot. This is why every gardener should have at least one rain barrel.

I‘m seeing flower buds on the early-blooming magnolias and redbuds that flower first and leaf out later.

By the time you read this they may have caught up with the forsythia.

My forsythia is called “Little Peep.” It’s the low spreading type, a super early bloomer that is already blazing away along the front sidewalk.

The wild tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari (grape hyacinth) and scilla (Siberian squill) are up and will open any day. The Darwin and parrot tulips follow in May.

I snipped my first crop of chives for mashed potatoes last night. The walking onions won’t be ready for eating until June, but herbs like sage and thyme are almost ready.

The rhubarb is about 4 inches out of the ground. It’s hard to believe that within a few weeks the leaves will be 2 feet long and the stalks almost too ripe for pie-making.

Evergreen perennials like lamium, ajuga, pachysandra, sedum and periwinkle are already competing with each other for new territory, and the evergreen Euonymus (“Golden Prince’ and “Emerald ‘n’ Gold”) shrubs are putting on fresh new growth.

I decided to prune the “Twisty Baby” black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) that popped up all over the front garden last summer, after I’d cut down the original tree, which had been severely damaged by the previous hard winter.

Its roots were much invigorated by the loss of the parent. Seven or eight saplings shot up, their contorted branches clothed in delicate chartreuse leaves that made them instant focal points (charming curiosities).

And then they, too, required pruning.

In warmer regions pruning means sacrificing flowers. Unfortunately, the black locust’s fragrant wisteria-like racemes are seldom seen in USDA Zone 4. The flower buds typically don’t survive our late spring frosts.

As to conifers, in my garden only the De Groot arborvitaes came through winter in bad shape.

Last year I purchased five mature shrubs, about 5 feet tall, to soften the lines of a bare fence that happens to be shaded by an oak tree.

Having to adjust to less sunlight put them at a disadvantage right off. Add to that, dealing with me.

I do change my mind a lot. I couldn’t seem to get the spacing right. No sooner did the De Groots’ roots adapt to a freshly dug hole than I’d move them each to another freshly dug hole.

This went on all summer.

And then it stopped raining. And I forgot to keep watering. So the shrubs were dehydrated going into winter and were badly scarred as a result. Almost half the foliage died. At best I lost a season of growth; at worst I lost five shrubs. Time will tell.

What to do in the meantime?

Dead foliage can be cut off with no damage done, but it’s best to wait a bit — at last until the living foliage has produced its first flush of new growth.

Also, never cut the branches. Like brain cells, they won’t grow back.

A beloved serviceberry that is the last survivor of three that I tried to make into a pleached hedge decades ago is finally giving up the ghost.

Its trunk is mostly black, a symptom of a deadly fungus called Verticillium.

The first sign of impending doom was increased seed production (the survival instinct kicking in). Next its new leaves grew smaller than normal and developed brown spots around the margins.

Then came the wilt.

Leaves on one side of the tree typically wilt first. Then the wood beneath the bark develops ugly green and black streaks.

My hope is that my tree will limp through one more summer, that its leaves will unfurl on schedule just as the pretty white flowers open — this should happen in a week or so — and that the flowers will bear fruit one last time, attracting the The usual crowd of songbirds.

I hope you exercised more restraint than I did a week ago when the temperature hit 70.

I was unable to resist the pansies that would look SO ADORABLE in the hammered-tin boxes that I saw while I just happened to stop by Leitner’s Garden Center.

The boxes would be SO PERFECT to anchor the two wooden handrails I’d moved from the back porch to the front stoop, a long overdue safety feature.

The logical time to install handrails would have been last fall — but to be honest, it wasn’t safety so much as those cute tin boxes (and the amazing weather … and the pansies) that launched last weekend’s project.

Using a hand cart, I rolled a matched pair of spiky cordyline plants embedded in mounds of English ivy from the always toasty living room to the temporarily balmy front porch.

A friend helped me lift the two plants from their plastic containers and drop them into the large tin boxes, which I’d stationed opposite each other on the front ends of the cheeks (yes, this is the correct word for the concrete slabs that create so-called stoops on old houses like mine).

The two smaller boxes were then placed on the wooden posts attached to the porch railings at the top of the steps.

Finally, the handrails were drilled into the smaller boxes at one end and the larger boxes below at the other.

As the sun set and the temperature plunged, I added the finishing touch: bedsheets. It was by now much too cold and windy out for the ivy and cordyline.

The pansies, which occupy the smaller tin boxes atop the wooden posts, were left to live or die without protection.

Though they look far more fragile than either ivy or cordyline, pansies actually prefer cooler temperatures.

Within reason, of course. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t drop freezing below.

A final tip before I sign off:

The annual Friends School Plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend will be held in its real home again this year — not in the parking lot like last year but inside the State Fair grandstand.

As always, bring a wagon if you wish (there are grocery carts at the sale) and your marked-up catalog. It’s available online.

Use the catalog to plan your route from the entrance, where you’ll pick up your wrist band, through the building (to load up on perennials, annuals, bulbs, and such) and then outside to the section where the trees, shrubs and native grasses are.

Planning isn’t so much for efficiency’s sake, but for your own peace of mind. It’s easy to become so overwhelmed by all the gorgeous plants you didn’t know existed that you forget to buy the ones on your list.

Being overwhelmed is half the fun of the sale, of course, but still … some preparation never hurts.

Or so my friends tell me.

A final note on the pansies.

It did drop below freezing. May they rest in peace.

I hate to sound crass, not to mention heartless, but it’s best to look on the bright side, isn’t it?

There are plenty more pansies where they came from.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button