By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener
April 22nd was Earth Day. It is a time for reflection on what we can do to help develop a new approach to conservation and it can all start in our own yard. As we experience what we all hope will be our last full shutdown, we need to remain optimistic in the growing interest in gardening with natives and the number of younger people who are learning to grow their own vegetables. Douglas Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, writes that as homeowners, we need to “turn our yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats”.
Spring is a time of renewal. To help us get through the stressful days of this lockdown, a walk outdoors will help you experience the joys of nature and all it has to offer!
I have created two lists. The first is ‘Joys of Nature’ that you will encounter this time of year. The second is ‘Garden Tasks’ to tackle over the next few weeks.
JOYS OF NATURE
- My garden makes me smile this time of year with all the blooming Daffodils (Narcissus), Hyacinths, Hellebores and even Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis).
- Local ponds are alive with the sounds of the spring peepers and the chorus frogs. If you take a walk and come across a wetland, you will be amazed at the sound.
- Many of the migrating birds and waterfowl have returned. My feeders are being well used by the yellow finches, grackles, house finches and mourning doves. If you enjoy the hummingbirds, don’t forget to get your feeders out now. They will soon be back!
- A walk through the woods will reveal the beauty of the spring ephemerals. Ephemerals are short-lived spring flowers that take advantage of the sunshine before the trees get their leaves. I have seen bloodroot, hepatica, coltsfoot and the beginnings of the trilliums and the dog-toothed violets.
- If you are out digging in your garden, don’t be surprised if a robin will follow you around in the hopes you might throw him a much sought-after worm. Robins are already nesting so the female is likely to be at the nest site.
- Watch for early butterflies such as the Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Comma and the Spring Azure.
- In early May, you should begin to see the white blossoms of serviceberries and the beginnings of the lilacs and the cherry blossoms.
Get outdoors, take a deep breath and walk slowly through a local park or wooded area and enjoy many of the items mentioned above. Do it now before the return of the blackflies and mosquitoes!!
If you are interested in a sample of simple nature events in the Kawarthas, Drew Monkman, a retired teacher and well known environmentalist and advocate for climate control, has written this monthly almanac: https://www.drewmonkman.com/sample-page/monthly-almanacs/
SPRING GARDEN TASKS
- Only rake your lawn if walking on it leaves NO footprint. The time to overseed your lawn is generally when the lilacs are in bloom.
- Now is the time to top dress a generous amount of compost and other organic material into your garden beds. Let the earthworms do the work. I do not suggest that you rototill your garden as this disturbs the beneficial life in the soil. Bacteria, mycorrhiza and insects are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, with rototilling.
- Prune overgrown vines and shrubs such as some hydrangea and some of the clematis; basically all the shrubs and vines that do not bloom in spring. Do not prune lilacs as they bloom on last year’s growth.
- Gradually remove protection on rose bushes and prune down to a swollen bud. Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches.
- If you haven’t already, now is the time to sow frost tolerant veggies such as peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale and radishes directly into the garden.
- Divide and transplant perennials as growth resumes.
- Now is a good time to think about planting shrubs and trees. Maybe you would like to replace an old shrub with something native, such as Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Eastern snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) or Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
- Be sure to have your rain barrels set-up and ready to collect that wonderful spring rain.
- Keep your bird baths filled and cleaned.
- If you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and annual flowers indoors, early May is the time to begin to harden off those young seedlings.
- The soil is still quite soft, so now is a good time to edge your garden beds as well as start to pull all those weeds that seem to survive no matter what the weather.
Get out in your gardens, enjoy the warmer temperatures and don’t forget to get your knees dirty!