With spring comes back-aching work in the yard, and great exercise for hamstrings if you bend down a lot like I do.
So far this spring, here’s some of what I’ve done, more or less the same thing gardeners everywhere do in their spring season:
In early and mid April, I started inspecting the perennials, to see what was coming up (garlic and chives, mostly), what shrubs and trees had lived and which died, and I began weeding garden beds and cutting back seedheads, pruning trees and shrubs, not with any urgency but just to get the hang of it again.
18 April: Planted crocosmia bulbs, and (Easter Egg Mix) radish and (Astro) arugula seeds.
21 April: Planted shelling pea seeds (an unknown variety from Fedco, and Topps)
22 April: Planted a wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) sapling; and not very carefully dug up and replanted a too-big, too-sprawly tansy plant to an undesirable location in the back strip — where it is now thriving.
23 April: Planted Swiss chard seedlings, and a day or two later, romaine lettuce seedlings.
We got an inch or so of snow on 26 April.
Weeding continued into May, garden bed by bed.
Sometime in the first or second week of May, I drastically cut back the large rhododendrons in front of the house, spending 2 hours cutting out dead branches, cutting them away from the peonies, the leucothoe, and the house, and in the end taking 4 giant loads of branches to the dump pile in the back of the yard. You can’t tell it to look at them.
10 May: Planted two Malus sargentii ‘Roselow’ crabapple sticks (freebies) whose roots I may have unintentionally let dry out, one in a newly sheet mulched bed made just for it,
and one replacing a spicebush shrub (Lindera benzoin) from last year that died; that spicebush was one of two that died, leaving just one (which I bought from a different, local source) remaining and looking well. The spot where the second dead spicebush was removed remains to be filled after an upcoming local plant sale.
On that day we also dug up the dead pagoda dogwood, one of the first trees we had planted in our yard in spring 2010, soon after we bought the house, taken by a fungus. I replaced it, after much deliberation and browsing nursery stock, with another pagoda dogwood, which I dug up from behind the house; I’m watching it for signs of fungus and may have to give up on the idea of a pagoda in that spot, even though there are a few more “wild” ones I could use as free replacements. I’m eyeing a weeping larch at the local nursery in case things go south for the new pagoda.
11 May: Bought and planted two highbush “Jelly Bean” blueberry bushes, four parsley plants, a spring bush pea (Lathyrus vernus), some snapdragons (which I shifted over to a new spot 10 days later), 2 ‘Freckles’ coleus (which both died within a week), and 3 Vermillionaire ‘firecracker’ annuals (Cuphea hybrid), which I loved last year in the back bed; this year they are in the front bed.
I also sheet-mulched a new bed in a hard-to-mow area near the road and driveway, and planted two sedums (Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’) and an ice plant (Delosperma hybrid ‘Jewel of Desert Topaz’) in it.
12 May: Moved three struggling highbush blueberries from a spot they’d occupied without conviction since 2011; the spot just wasn’t sunny enough for them, and the soil was pretty sandy, so they relocated to a sunny southeast facing bed with better loam, to which I added Coast of Maine lobster compost as I planted. There were already three other blueberries there, so now there are six all together, hopefully happy together.
14 May: Bought some small annuals at a plant sale and got them in the ground: a dozen or so each of New Day Clear orange gazanias, vanilla marigolds, and mixed calendula, along with one cilantro plant.
Overnight from the 15th to the 16th May, we had some light wintry mix and hit a low of 34F. (Goodbye, coleus.)
17 May: Spouse chainsawed — with their permission — the neighbours’ dried tall grass plants, and friends with a chipper-shredder came over to help us shred and chip those sheaves of 5-foot long grass plus some tree branches and debris. We ended up with 5 bags of mulch after less than two hours of work. As of today, a week later, I have used 2-1/2 bags mulching my veggies.
18 May: Planted 4 Icelandic poppies I got for free, a white alyssum plant (also free), plus 10 or so leek seedlings a friend gave me.
Throughout most of May, I’ve had to water the seedlings every day as we have lacked enough rain for them to get a good start in life.
21 May: Spouse made a trellis for the peas to climb.
Yesterday, 23 May, I spent four hours planting the warm-season seedlings I’ve had waiting to go in for two weeks: about 15 sweet basil plants, 8 or 10 Marketmore cucumbers, one Good King Henry plant (perennial spinach), 4 sweet bell peppers, 8 yellow crookneck squash, one Sungold cherry tomato, and 3 Matt’s Wild (grape) tomatoes, plus 10 zinnias. I added lobster compost to most and mulched them all, even the spinach (because it’s small and I was afraid I’d step on it).
Much of the time spent planting these guys was devoted to searching for spots for them; I have very few full sun areas, and the tomatoes, peppers, and most of the basil got that, so cucumbers, squash, and excess basil had to be shoved in wherever there was some sun and no other plant (or, in the case of the snapdragons, sometimes other plants had to move). It’s probably a bit early — we could get a frost, and soil temps probably aren’t high enough yet for good growth — but knowing our travel plans I felt I wanted to get them in the ground now, to make sure they at least get enough water for their first week or so.
Still to come, probably today or tomorrow: planting green beans and scarlet runner beans, plus some gladiolus bulbs, and Butterfly Mix and zinnia seeds. Not sure where, but I will find spots to cram them in. And I’ll be buying or scrounging shrubs to replace the one spicebush I mentioned and probably also a butterfly bush that died over the winter, though they are slow to push out of the soil, so I’m not giving up yet on it; the other one survived beautifully, but it’s in a warm microclimate by the house.
Meanwhile, the fruit guild is chugging along pretty much on its own. The peach trees are leafing out (but will they blossom?), and the chives, baptisia, fennel, yarrow, anise hyssop, lemon balm, and rampant strawberries are all up and growing. The asclepias is just starting to emerge. The purple sand cherry is blooming, the winterberry shrubs have leaves. I’ll probably plant the green beans there, maybe some dill, maybe some butterfly mix seeds. Not much to do in the fruit guild, which is how perennial edible gardening should be. (Some of the plants are edible for humans, some are not but are there to attract insects beneficial to the gardener.)
Now, I’m going to go have a drink with a friend who has returned to NH after six months in her winter home.
Addendum: This morning, as I walked around the yard taking a few last-minute photos for this post, I noticed that the Nishiki willow tree, a specimen tree I’ve had since 2010, has mostly died. It was attacked by borers a couple of years ago but seemed to be recovering or holding its own since then; but now the new leaves are mostly brown, furled, and falling off, though there seems to be a green section or two. Whether we’ll hack off the dead parts and see what happens, or replace the willow with something else (weeping European larch, anyone?) remains to be seen. (No photo, too sad.)