Spring Gardening Ins and Outs

| 3/6/2009 3:05:17 PM

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Cindy MurphyIt’s March ... is it time to get out in the garden yet? Patience, patience, Cindy – the time will come soon enough when the nursery re-opens, and you’ll be back to work. Then, between there and your own gardens you’ll have more than enough gardening. But right now, although the snow’s melted, the ground is still frozen and there’s not a whole lot that can be done. Enjoy the last days of winter while you can. Even the closed buds on bare trees hold promise spring will come ... in its own sweet time.

I have to tell myself things like this as we stand on the cusp between winter and spring. A friend from Oklahoma mentioned her roses had leaves, and her daffodils were already blooming. “Wow,” I thought, almost envious. The fairy roses in front of my house haven’t even lost last year’s leaves; they were freeze-dried to the branches when the first snow hit in early November.

Coming in the house the other day, I stared at the bare dirt where daffodils waft a heady scent through the back door when they’re in bloom. I tried to will them to flower, but they ignore me, and haven’t broken ground yet. The straw-colored clump of red switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Rostrahlbusch’) near the daffodils-to-be spot, looks broken and beaten after spending months under the weight of snow. I really need to cut that down soon. Ornamental grasses should be cut to two to three inches above the soil before new growth begins to sprout. Divisions too can be done in spring – I want to divide the grass and move a clump or two into the new garden this year.

Hacking through grasses and dividing them can be a chore. These, and many other big spring gardening tasks, can lead to sore muscles that haven’t been worked in a while. As indoor activities shift to outdoor work, remember not to over do it. Start slowly to give your muscles time to acclimate. As with any physical exercise, stretching beforehand is a good practice. Don’t forget to include a cooling down period after the task is completed ... and what better way than taking a stroll through the garden looking at what you’ve accomplished ... and taking inventory of all that still needs to be done.

Hands too, should be protected. Good work gloves are as essential tools to me as pruners and a shovel. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that I wear gloves; dirt and mulch seem to find a way inside them. Try this trick for removing that ground-in garden dirt from your hands: Pour equal amounts of sugar and olive oil into your hand, and rub together for a few minutes, before rinsing. The grit of the sugar is abrasive enough to remove the grime, and the olive oil softens your hands at the same time. Because I wash my hands so much during the work season, this is one way I've found to keep them from getting red and dry like they do with abrasive hand cleaners.

Nebraska Dave, a great conversationalist in the blog comment sections and forums on this site, said, “The warm Spring sun, the sound of birds, watching the squirrels play in the trees all just make a body feel good inside.” Very true indeed, Dave. Last fall’s cranberry viburnum berries dusted in a sugary spring frost are a bright splash of red for a gray day.

Cindy Murphy
3/12/2009 1:59:55 PM

Lori! I don't have hyacinths, but am excited to report that the other day I noticed the daffodils poking their noses out of the ground where last week there were none! Of course, today, they're coverd in snow, but that's beside the point. I can't help but think it won't be long now. Thanks for the compliment about the viburnum photo; it's especially nice coming from an accomplished photographer such as yourself. Digital cameras are such a wonderful thing - if it weren't for them, I'd have more wasted film of pictures of my thumb and strands of hair, than I would of actual photos where you could make out the subject! Take care, and think spring!

3/12/2009 6:29:52 AM

Cindy, I too am chomping at the bit to get started playing in the dirt! My hyacinths are teasing me by showing me their tops poking through the ground! I love the explanations for plant terminology! When I read the one for vigorous, it immediately brought to mind my ongoing battle with Lemon Balm! The stuff smells wonderful all right, but anyone thinking of planting this herb be aware that it will seed itself all over your flowerbeds if you let it go to seed. A lesson I learned the hard way! I love your photo of the frosted berries! They do look like they were dipped in sugar!

Cindy Murphy
3/12/2009 6:01:39 AM

Hi, Dave. I'm employeed at a nursery, and I used to tell people that I played in the mud for a living when asked where I worked....until someone thought I was a mud-wrestler, and I could not convince him otherwise.

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