By Jennifer Fairfield, owner Garden Mill
The National Weather Service says, “composites depict a strong warm signal” and “Probabilities of above normal precipitation are greater than 50 percent from southern Michigan to western areas of the Ohio Valley …”
In other words, they’re predicting that the next couple of months will be warmer and wetter than normal. Warmer could be a good thing — it could mean that we might be able to get started gardening a little early this year.
Of course, it is Michigan, so don’t count to heavily on that – how many times have we all lost plants because we put them out too early, and they got hit by a late frost.
Planning for my garden is the biggest thing keeping me busy right now. Making a plan helps me figure out what I need for the upcoming season, including seeds, supports, fertilizers, tools, etc. I don’t necessarily stick to my plan 100 percent – I figure I need to be flexible, so that I can fit in new varieties I didn’t know I was going to find, for instance. While you are making your plans, determine what you’ll need in the way of seed-starting supplies, such as peat pots, starting medium, heating mats, etc. All of these are on sale this month at the Garden Mill, both in-store and online.
Do you start your own veggie and herb plants from seed?
- If so, start parsley early in the month; broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, head lettuces, kale, and most herbs mid-month. Basil can wait until the end of the month. Warm-weather-loving tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant should wait until early April to get started, as they really shouldn’t be put out in your garden until about two weeks after the last frost, which generally means planting them on Memorial Day Weekend around here. If you start plants too early, and the weather doesn’t cooperate, they may not do as well.
- Early to mid-March is the time to start zinnia seeds, and mid to late-March is the time to get a number of flowers going, including amaranth, catmint, cleome, gaillardia, nigella, stock and thunbergia.
- Late April is the time to start Echinacea.
- If you stored tender bulbs over the winter, check them now and discard any that are soft, damaged or diseased.
- If you potted bulbs for forcing last fall, check their progress. When your bulbs get a few inches of growth, it’s time to move them into a cool (60 degrees) sunny spot, but not in direct sunlight. Once they have flowered, move them into a warmer spot, but keep them out of direct sunlight to help the blooms last longer. Cooler nighttime temperatures will help your bulbs last even longer.
- We’ve had a bit of winter this year – some heavy snow, some ice, some wind – that may have caused damage to trees and shrubs. Now is a good time to check to see how your trees and shrubs fared, and prune off damage you find, and if you didn’t finish other pruning to get that done as well. If you missed last month’s newsletter’s details on pruning, you can find good tips on shrub pruning from Penn State Extension and information on tree pruning from the Arbor Day Foundation.
- While you’re out pruning, take some cuttings from spring-blooming shrubs and trees, such as forsythia, cherry, quince, and redbud, and bring them indoors for forcing. Trim the ends, using long, slanted cuts to help the branches take up water. Place the branches in vases of water (be sure to change the water every few days).
- Depending on the variety, blooming can happen as quickly as one to two weeks, though some can take as much as five weeks. Purdue University’s Extension Service offers an exhaustive list of trees and shrubs that can be forced, along with the how-to details in this article.
- As tempting as it is to get out and get to work in the yard and garden, stay off the lawn and out of garden beds as much as possible while the ground is wet. Wet soil is easily compacted by walking on it at this time, and compacted soil doesn’t drain well, which means it will be wetter even longer. Soil compaction also means there isn’t good aeration, which is necessary for plant root survival.
- This time of year is prime for frost heave in our gardens. Frost heave occurs when wet soil freezes and expands, causing the roots of plants to push up and out of the soil, which can be harmful or even deadly to the plants. If we get some days when the ground has had time to dry out (after the snow has melted and in between rain events), do take a walk around and look for plants that may show signs of frost heave. Cover the roots with soil, and then give the plant a good layer of mulch to help prevent this from happening again. For more information of frost heave, and how to prevent it, check out this article from the Missouri Botanical Garden.
- While you’re out checking for frost heave, pull any weeds you find in your flower beds. This will make the spring chore a little easier, and it gets you outdoors and in the garden – as long as the ground isn’t too wet.
- Some of our migrating birds will be returning to Michigan this month looking for places to nest (the redwings are already back at my house, and I literally just heard my first cranes of the season as I was writing this.)
- Providing our returning birds with food, water, and shelter can help to encourage them to hang around in your yard – which is great for a few reasons. Birds can be very entertaining to watch and can provide you with hours of fun, but the best reason to encourage them in your yard if you’re a gardener is that they eat lots of insects.
- So, this month, clean out any nesting boxes you have in your yard, or add new ones. Replace any that are worn out or broken, and provide your birds with easy access to nesting materials – but be sure you know what types of materials are appropriate for bird nesting. Cornell university offers “do’s-and-dont’s” for what types of nesting materials to provide for birds.
- Feeding birds at this time of year is important – it helps them keep up their energy, as they are looking for nesting spot and finding nesting materials. Did you know that some male wrens will build as many as 3 to 10 nests to show off to prospective females? They need lots of energy to do that. Feeding also helps birds preserve their energy for staying warm on cold March nights. So, keep filling up those feeders.