Gardening season has begun

By Tom Seymour | Apr 13, 2018
Photo by: Tom Seymour A windowsill planter needs new soil for the coming season.

Lingering snow and below-average temperatures combine to convince us that spring yet lies somewhere in the distant future. But now, in April, things can turn on a dime and because of that, gardeners need to get ready for planting season.

This stands as a great time to do tasks that will give us a leg up on things when planting time rolls around. Many of us, and I admit to this myself, procrastinate when it comes to cleaning garden equipment and doing what seem like mundane chores. But better to get these things out of the way now and thus free ourselves up for more exciting tasks when warmer weather finally rolls in.

Even those who don’t garden can improve their time with certain outside chores. For instance, do you maintain birdhouses for your favorite songbirds? If so, there is a chore waiting for completion immediately.

Love is in the air ... literally. Birds are mating and getting ready for nesting season. But if their birdhouses are dirty and full of last year’s refuse, they may well abandon them and look for cleaner surroundings. Simply put, birds like clean houses. So take a stepladder, if needed, don rubber gloves and open each birdhouse so as to remove everything inside.

Then your birds can begin working and carrying nest-building materials to their newly cleaned houses. So clean out those birdhouses and the birds will thank you.

Birdbath time

It’s also the right time to clean out birdbaths. Green algae builds up on the inside of birdbaths and, at a minimum, this is unsightly. So again, wear rubber gloves and scrub the inside of the birdbath. Make sure to rinse thoroughly when you have finished, so as to remove any traces of residue left from cleaning products.

It’s not only birdbaths that need attention. Consider hummingbird feeders. The sugar solution used to feed the hummers quickly becomes a magnet for black mold. Use a mild solution of bleach to sterilize the inside. And if mold and possibly even green algae refuse to budge, try this. Add a handful of clean pebbles to the inside of the feeder before introducing the bleach solution. Shake well and the pebbles will dislodge the crud. This was a technique used to clean newfound treasures during the antique bottle craze that swept Maine in the 1970s.

Garden hoses

My garden hose finally bit the dust last fall just before freeze-up. Breaks in the side led to constant crimping and the various leaks were repaired one too many times. But instead of discarding the old hose in its entirety, I left it attached to the outside faucet and cut it so as to leave about three feet remaining. This comes in handy for rinsing garden tools and containers.

Later, I’ll attach a new hose. But for now, the three-foot length serves me just fine.

So how are your hoses standing up? Were they afflicted with the same wear and tear as mine? If so, it might be time to invest in a new hose. Do this now, and when the time comes to use it, you won’t have to make a hurried trip to the store.

Also, what about hose nozzles? Some nozzles, especially plastic ones, will crack over winter if water remains in them. Often this isn’t noticeable until it’s time to use the nozzle, a real nuisance. And what about the washer-type hose gasket that keeps water from running down your hand while using the hose? The only way to determine if you have gasket problems is to try the thing. If it leaks a wee bit, try tightening the nozzle, and if that doesn’t help, it’s time for a new gasket.

Turn in

It’s time to turn in. No, I don’t mean to bed, but rather, it’s time to turn in all the organic material that you dumped on your garden beds over the winter.

This seems like a haphazard way to improve soil, but it works and I’ve written about it in the past. It’s so difficult to keep organic material over the winter. Keep it inside and the odor may become objectionable. Store it outside and it will freeze solid in the container. But if you have a garden bed or beds close to the kitchen door, all you need do is toss those scraps of organic material on top.

The material will partially decompose over winter, due to cycles of freezing and thawing and by spring, will be ready to turn into the soil. Do this now, with a garden fork, and when the earthwarms and it’s time to till, your soil will be rich and full of nourishment for your new plants.

Here’s another benefit of this process. Angleworms are up near the surface now and if, like me, you love fishing, then save your angleworms as you turn the soil in your garden beds. Put them in a soil/compost mixture and store in the refrigerator and they will last for many months.

Deer protection

With spring on the march, whitetailed deer are coming out of the woods and heading directly to our yards, gardens and orchards. Ravenous after a winter of subsisting on barely nourishing browse, the animals have insatiable appetites.

No matter what you use for deer repellent, now is the time for the first application of the season. I’ll devote a future column to this and spell out options in detail. But for now, protect your plants before it’s too late.

Sometimes we must take drastic measures to save our beloved plants. A February daphne, a small, early-blooming shrub with intensely fragrant blossoms, has finally matured and now is loaded with flower buds that will open in just a few weeks. But this shrub sits in an area where deer frequently visit. Later, when the electric fence goes up, the daphne will be safe. But what to do now?

In my case, the most reasonable and efficient move was to place a large-size tomato cage over the little shrub. The cage is weathered and doesn’t really stand out. And it will save my precious shrub from ravenous deer.

Container soil

Now is also the time to replace the soil in containers you’ll use for growing this season. Soil in containers quickly becomes depleted after a few growing seasons, so new soil is necessary for best plant health. This even pertains to growing systems such as EarthBox and Grow Box devices.

Windowboxes, especially, need a change of soil. Ever wonder how all those weeds got in your windowbox soil? Most of the weeds come from windblown seeds. So it’s better now to empty the boxes, clean them thoroughly and fill with new, clean, weed-free soil.

Tom’s tips

If the snow has melted from your perennial beds, you’re probably thinking about removing the mulch you placed there last fall to protect your plants over the winter. But beware. Don’t remove the mulch too early, because the possibility of a hard freeze remains on the table.

But if you are certain that the time has come, remove the mulch carefully. I use fir tips, and sometimes they freeze into the ground. But no matter what you use, don’t force it or pry it free. Instead, leave it in place until it thaws naturally.

Time to clean the hummingbird feeder. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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