Spring Panic

– Posted in: Garden chores, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Weather

Crocus 'Blue Pearl' taken by RundyMichelle Owens is right. As soon as spring has sprung, I’m already behind. I used to think, “Oh, there’ll be plenty of time for that later.” This kind of thinking explains why I was always planting stunted seedlings in July.

And then there’s the climate. Discerning when mud season ends and spring really begins–well, that’s not always so easily discerned. This year, I think I picked the exactly right time to rake my beds. It only took me fifteen years to figure this out. The soil has to be most of the way thawed but not yet to the point where the crocuses are blooming, otherwise the rake shreds the crocuses. I’ve decided not to worry about the advice not to rake your beds too early, because you’ll expose the tender growth to freezing. If the plants can’t take the exposure, it’s time to find new plants. It seems more important to me to uncover the vole runways as soon as possible, so that vole predators have an easier time whittling down the rodent population. And a raked bed makes the wintered-over weeds more visible. Of course, if everything was mulched as it should be, there wouldn’t be any wintered-over weeds–but the voles would be so much more comfortable. All right, I’ll confess: it wasn’t because of voles that there is no mulch on many of my beds. It’s because I just didn’t get around to it.

Of course, figuring out the best time to rake is only part of it. The weather has to be nice enough to entice me out, and I have to find the time to rake. It is not unusual to have a birthday celebration or a dental appointment or some other errand scheduled months in advance, only to realize as I tool around town that this is probably the one day this week when the weather is suitable for gardening, and here I am playing chauffeur . . .

But last week I did manage to rake. The debris is still all out there, waiting to be wheelbarrowed to the compost pile. But wait! Before I dump the debris into bin A, the present contents of Bin A should be forked into Bin B, and what’s in Bin B should be dumped into Bin C. But right now Bin C has the last of the municipal “compost” (actually partially decomposed wood chips) that Rundy got for me last year. So, before all the debris gets cleaned up and put on the compost pile, I have to get all the semi-rotted woodchips out of Bin C, and get a nice, young, healthy teenager to do the Bin B-to Bin C, Bin A-to Bin B shuffle. And there’s a 90% chance of rain today, and snow predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Yesterday (Sunday) was gorgeous. I could have gotten started on the wheelbarrowing (when not making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy), except I came down with a cold last Friday. As colds go, it’s not the worst I’ve ever had, but I’ve got a wicked cough, the kind that keeps you up at night and hurts your chest and makes your head pound. All I managed yesterday was a walk around the house, mentally noting what was in bloom (snowdrops, crocuses, and the very first Siberian squills) and what needed to be done.

The raking? That was but a drop in a very big bucket. Every bed I’ve ever created needs weeding–and mulching when the soil warms up a bit more. And did I mention Fedco is sending me some shrubs sometime in April? My sister gave me a Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’ for Christmas, and Talitha is giving me an Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ for my birthday, and I ordered 3 more myself, because I’ve wanted a winterberry hedge since forever, but they’re dioecious, which means they need a ‘Southern Gentleman’ to keep them company. Six shrubs needing six holes dug. And Fedco was a bit vague about their arrival. They’re shipping “between April 5 and April 17.” And what about that rose I wanted but have yet to order? And what about the Styrax obassia seedling that I planted last year, which looks to be dead? Should I wait and see, or assume the worst and order a replacement? And what about all the indoor projects I was going to do this winter, that still aren’t done? Where are the kids’ summer clothes that I packed away last fall?

Must. not. hyper. ventilate. Drink plenty of fluids. Get plenty of rest. (Ha!) And remember my first rule of gardening: “If it’s not fun (in a gardener’s perverse sense of the word), don’t do it!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

nelumbo April 8, 2006, 10:01 pm

Wow, you have certainly been on the cutting edge of garden blogging to get your start in 2002!

Kathy Purdy April 4, 2006, 6:06 pm

Laurie–I am always looking under rocks in spring, in case there are bulbs trying to sprout underneath.

Betsy–I wish it were funny. The house is very dusty because of all the dirt that gets tracked in despite vigilant feet wiping. (Well, some residents are more vigilant than others.) And replacing that lost gravel would cost a serious chunk of change. I wish there had been an easy way to get the gravel back in the driveway.

MSS–as much as possible I try to ignore the accepted wisdom and do whatever chore it is whenever I think of it and have the requisite ambition. I believe it was Christopher Lloyd, who, when asked when was the best time to prune, answered, “When you think of it.”

Betsy April 4, 2006, 11:56 am

Thank you Kathy! That was so funny. Since this is my first year experiencing this, I said “Um, honey, isn’t there an awful lot of gravel in the yard and not on the driveway?” I wish there was some kind of gravel magnet to separate it all! -Betsy

Laurie Gano April 3, 2006, 7:44 pm

When to rake? Right before the bulbs in any given bed are big enough to be damaged. Today I was raking scattered spots all around my big yard, trying to remember where I put last year’s new bulbs. Finally had to go look it up. Wouldn’t you know there’s a clump of new species tulips underneath the enormous weathered stump my son brought home last January.Then I looked and looked for somewhere to move the stump; no luck so far.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) April 3, 2006, 6:54 pm

I feel exactly the same way. I think there are about 2.4 hours between the time it is either too early to do anything in the garden and the time it is too late to do anything. I’m always making notes…when those narcissus die down, I’ll have to divide them…but when the time comes, I completely involved with other tasks. So I never seem to get to any of the prep work done that would reduce problems later. That leaves me either running around like a madwoman or throwing up my hands in resignation and saying, maybe next year.

Kathy Purdy April 3, 2006, 5:10 pm

Betsy, it depends on how long you want your gravel driveway to last. We used to have a gravel driveway, and if I didn’t get around to raking the gravel out of the flower bed and lawn, I didn’t sweat it. The lawn and the garden don’t mind the additional drainage in my clay soil at all. BUT we no longer have a gravel driveway. Over the past 17 years the gravel has gradually disappeared with each winter’s snow shoveling, and, sorry to say, it is now a dirt driveway.

Betsy April 3, 2006, 3:08 pm

Should I rake the gravel out of my garden? There is a flower bed by the driveway that now has alot of gravel in it from snow shoveling. I was hoping I could leave it in there and it would be OK. 🙂 Lazy! Thanks, Betsy

Alice Nelson April 3, 2006, 11:22 am

Well, we don’t have to panic yet. Here in the U.P. snow is still a foot deep on the beds, so we don’t have to think about raking. We’re beginning to see how much sand and grave has been deposited on our side lawn from the street plowing over the winter. We live on a corner across from a school, and they have to do an extra job to keep it safe for the buses. We don’t rake it; we use a power sweeper, sweeping it to the gutter where the street sweeper picks it up. Fortunately, this does not get into the flower beds, but the same can’t be said for some of the gardens my ocmpany puts in, so there will be lots of cleanup in those. Fun, fun.