Signs of Spring

Reader Contribution by Allan Douglas
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Dear Reader, this post falls under the category of Land Maintenance, so I thought I’d talk a bit about some things that are happening here in the mountains, and preparations we are making for the much welcomed spring.


Spring time here in the great Smoky Mountains means, first: rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Our mountain retreat will seem more like Seattle for a month or so from late February through most of March.  The ground will be soggy, the rivers run full and we make good use of umbrellas and wide brimmed hats (like my fedora).  Not only does it rain often, but some will be very heavy rainfalls, which can lead to the washing out of driveways and roads.  Crusher-run gravel comes at a premium price at this time of year as residents scramble to repair damage to their drives and access roads.  This year with all the budget cuts, including road maintenance, some of our normally top-notch roads are deteriorating rapidly.  One that we normally use as a short-cut into town has become all but impassible because of the pot holes.


On the brighter side; we also enjoy the brilliant colors of spring; all the fruit trees burst into bloom practically overnight, the pink and white of Dogwood trees and the lavender of Redbud trees, yellow of Forsythia and bright red of Quince.  The irises and day lilies have already put up their spiky green leaves and will soon flower into purple, orange and red blossoms.  Pansies are already putting on a show, and a multitude of ground covers are popping open in purple, pink, yellow, and white flowers. The following video is not of TGSM, but it looks a lot like our region:


The seeds I planted in peat pods in my mini-green house have sprouted and will, in another couple of weeks, be ready to harden off and then go into the ground in the garden.  The garden itself has lain dormant for the winter under a blanket of fall foliage and is now ready to till and make ready for planting.

This year I will adopt a Four-Square method of gardening instead of the traditional method I used last year.  Heavy rains caused too much shifting of the soil in my sloping garden plot – even though it is planted on the flattest spot of land we have here!  We lost some top soil, and my neat rows of radishes tended to wander around the garden.  Some seedlings took offense to being moved and died off.  I decided that I would terrace the plot this year, but over the winter discovered the Four-Square method and decided that this makes more sense for us.  I’ll go into more detail on this method in an upcoming post.

My late crop of lettuce and Brussels sprouts survived the winter and are getting a head start on the season already.  The three lettuce plants I dug up and put into pots in my office window grew well all winter long and provided me with fresh baby lettuce for use in sandwiches and salads.  It seems that trimming the lower leaves as they became large enough spurred growth on top, keeping the plant from bolting (going to seed) and dying.  The result looks more like a lettuce vine that a regular lettuce plant, but it worked out well for us.

I also transplanted a Brussels sprout plant and a tomato plant.  Both lived through the winter indoors, but neither did anything more than survive.  They will both go back out in the garden soon and will hopefully give me a jump-start on those crops this year.


Junior is the American Chestnut sapling that I grew from an acorn my twin brother by another mother, Mike, gave me.  He will be one year old this spring (Junior, not Mike) and is leafing out nicely again.  I was afraid he had become diseased last fall because of the way he lost his leaves; they turned to lace before falling off.  But he is apparently doing very well and is looking healthy so far.

As you may know, American Chestnut trees are all but extinct because of a blight that swept most of the nation in the early 1900’s because of introduction of Asian chestnut trees into our country.

In the Appalachian Mountains, it is estimated that one in every four hardwood trees was an American chestnut. Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet (sometimes up to one hundred feet), and could grow up to 200 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level. For three centuries most barns and homes east of the Mississippi were made from American chestnut lumber.  The chestnut blight caused by C. parasitica has destroyed about 4 billion American chestnut trees.  Efforts are underway to try to repopulate this magnificent tree, but the dreaded blight fungus continues to grow in the soil in many areas.

Will Junior survive?  We’ll see; so far, so good.  His biggest problem so far was that his leaves grew so large that his spindly little trunk would not support them and he spent most of his time doubled over – especially when it rained.  So I built this support system to give him a hand until he beefs up a bit.


It’s also time to think about getting ready for the season of lawn care. Clean up the yard before mowing. Remove leaves, sticks, papers and any other debris that has accumulated. Remove any dead spots  visible in your lawn by vigorous raking. Once everything has been cleaned up and debris removed, follow with a lower than normal mowing. This should be short enough to remove the dead tips of the grass. This shorter mowing will encourage the roots to awaken and start growing. Compost the trimmings.

If you have any dead spots, re-seed now. Rake the area thoroughly to roughen up the top soil. Spread an appropriate seed, tamp down the area and cover with straw. If reseeding is required, hold off using any fertilizers with pre-emergent weed controls. You’ll still have time to do this application in about 6 weeks. This will give the new grass seed time to sprout and take hold.

Don’t forget to change the oil in the mower, give it a thorough check-up to see that it is in good working order, and sharpen or replace the blade. A sharp blade cuts the grass, a dull one tears them.

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