Early spring garden tips

Oh, how those glimpses into spring taunt us. Days when the sun is shining and the temperature goes above 45 degrees. They are far between right now, but when they do come, my fingers literally get itchy to be plunged into the dirt. Cold though it is, it still feels good. 

I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to jumping the gun on the season, but there are certainly things we can do when we get those softened breezes. Here are a few tips to get you started when you can be in the garden for a couple of hours. 

  1. Leave mulch in place
Shredded leaf mulch adds health organics

If you’ve mulched over the tops of your perennials, don’t be too fast to remove it. Wait until the tulips begin to bloom. Remove whatever you can by hand and then use a strong spray of water to remove the rest from the crown. Be sure to keep three inches of organic mulch on the ground around the plant for the growing season.

  1. Prune winter dieback

Yes, you can warm up your pruners! Prune winter dieback while the plants are still semi-dormant to take full use of the sap and nutrient flow in spring. Dead areas of stems will be obvious by their color. Prune just below the dead area, aiming to cut just above an outward facing bud. Also, prune for a pleasing shape.

  1. Cut back ornamental grasses

As soon as the weather permits being outside comfortably, cut back all ornamental grass foliage left on for the winter. Be sure to do this before new growth starts. This will make it easier than trying to sort through the new foliage and will keep from damaging it.

  1. Recycle for the garden
paper pots and cardboard rolls

Start recycling for the garden. Save paper towel, bathroom tissue or gift paper rolls and cut into 3-inch lengths to use for seed starting or as collars around early transplants to prevent cutworm damage. Make a mini-greenhouse by bending coat hangers into arches to fit in a seedling flat. Cover with plastic.

  1. Leave garden debris in place
No need to remove dead foliage

Even though spring clean-up feels really good, don’t be too eager to rake the area under shrubs and groundcovers clean of leaves and organic debris. Nature doesn’t do this, so mimic the woods and leave the natural mulch in place. This not only helps the health of the plants by providing nutrients as the materials decompose, but it also gives birds an excellent hunting ground. And the plants will come up through the mulch just fine.

  1. Set up your cold frame

There’s no need to have a fancy set-up. Simply placing bricks, cement blocks or even hay bales and putting a discarded window across them will give you a superb planting spot for early vegetables. There is absolutely nothing quite as sweet as fresh spinach, especially when coupled with the earliest of perennial onions. Make sure to give it a south or southeast exposure with some wind deflection. 

Spinach pasta

A deliciously easy recipe for early spring spinach (or any green)

1  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½   cup finely chopped onion

3  cloves garlic, minced

½ pound whole grain spaghetti

Salt and pepper

1  tablespoon butter

½ pound fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Red-pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

½ T. fresh lemon juice

½ c. grated Parmesan, Asiago  or smoked gouda cheese

Cook pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water. 

Saute onion and garlic in oil until tender but not caramelized. Add pasta, reserved cooking water, butter to the onion and garlic. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and red pepper, stirring until the spinach wilts. Add rest of ingredients, stirring until the cheese begins to melt. Season to taste. Serve with more cheese if desired and garlic toast. Enjoy!

Spider Sticks

I met a woman I didn’t know while walking in the woods yesterday. We each had a dog and were walking toward each other waving sticks up and down. When we met, we both burst out laughing. It wasn’t a cult ritual nor dousing for water. These were our spider sticks.

In the fall, when spiders are busy making plans for winter, they string their webs from tree to tree, without regard to where the paths are and who might be walking them. You seldom see the spiders, but occasionally I’ll find one hanging from my hat brim. I love what spiders are and what they do, but frankly, don’t like them on me. It’s irrational I know, but just can’t quite get past that silly fear.

My spider stick

So, we walk with spider sticks, waving them to catch the webs instead of letting them wrap themselves around our faces. Without a spider stick, you risk coming out of the woods looking like Frodo in the Hobbit when the giant spider wrapped him up in silk.

Spiders are amazing allies in the garden. They consume countless aphids, flying pests and even slugs that can wreak havoc on our plants. So protecting and tolerating them is definitely in our best interests. Their presence makes garden easier.

Garden Orb Spider (my friend)

Spider silk is one of the wonders of the world. It’s ethereally light and almost as strong as steel. It’s sticky (why it’s so hard to get off your face), and is used for transport, lodging and trapping prey. Most of the silks across the trail are the lines tossed into the wind to make a way for the spider to move through the trees without having to walk down a tree, across the path and up another tree. For fascinating details about the silk (and some creepy photos), check out Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating by Catherine Craig.

I’ve started timing my walks so that someone else has already been on that path. Hopefully, with their spider stick, they’ve cleaned out all the webs spun during the night. And yes, there is a spider that shoots silk just like Spiderman. It just doesn’t live around here (look out, Floridians).