(Chelsea Update would like to thank Jennifer Fairfield, owner of Garden Mill, for the information in this column. Part 1 ran yesterday.)
Clean up yard debris
Clean up yard debris – branches that have fallen from the high winds we’ve seen this season, leaves still remaining on lawns, driveway gravel plowed onto the lawn, etc. – and pull out any dead plants that are still in garden beds.
When daytime temperatures are consistently in the 50’s, cut back grasses and most perennials that you left standing over the winter. Wait to cut back semi-woody and woody perennials until the end of the month, then decide how much you want to trim based on where you see new growth, and how you want the plant to appear. Semi-woody perennials are ones that form woody stems, but aren’t as substantial as true shrubs or trees, and include Russian sage, lavender and some thymes.
With the quick warm-up we have had, it’s really a little late to do much pruning of trees except for damaged or dead branches. It is definitely too late for pruning oak trees, without risking oak wilt – a deadly disease carried by sap beetles that are attracted to sap from fresh wounds.
If you must prune oak trees at any time other than late winter, be sure to seal the wound immediately after pruning (by immediately, I mean have the sealer ready when you are pruning and apply it as soon as you put down your tools). Mostly, sealing cuts on pruned trees is no longer recommended, with the exception of oaks that are pruned at any time of year other than late winter. You can use any water-based paint to seal tree pruning wounds that require it.
What to plant
Start seeds for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant now, and basil at mid-month. Outdoors, plant peas and spinach now, radishes and carrots after the soil has warmed up a little more. Cabbage and kale transplants, as well as onion sets, can go out by mid-month, and broccoli and cauliflower by the end of the month, though again, if things start to really warm up, you may be able to accelerate this timetable a little bit, as long as you keep your row covers handy.
Toward the end of the month, divide summer-blooming perennials that you didn’t get to in the fall (you can divide spring-bloomers, but they may not bloom this spring).
If you have more plants than you have room for, give some away to friends and neighbors, or consider donating them to the Chelsea Area Garden Club for their annual spring plant sale, which will be held on May 7 this year. Proceeds from the sale go towards things like civic beautification around Chelsea and grants to Chelsea area students.
Plant dormant trees and shrubs once the soil can be worked. This year, the Earth Day Network is starting an initiative to plant 7.8 billion trees over the next five years.
For the birds
Clean out birdhouses now, if you haven’t already.
First check to make sure they aren’t already being occupied. If the nesting materials in the box look at all new and fresh, leave them – it’s an indication you already have tenants.
I have had bluebirds and house sparrows investigating my bluebird houses for a few weeks now. I’ve been harassing the house sparrows to try to discourage them from taking up residence, as they are a non-native, very aggressive bird that has threatened the existence of our native bluebirds. It takes some vigilance to keep them at bay, but if you can, it gives the bluebirds a fighting chance. While it is generally illegal to interfere with the nesting sites of migratory birds (as well as many that are not considered “migratory”), house sparrows are not a protected species, and really should be discouraged.
Help the birds with nesting materials
Consider providing nesting materials for your birds. All kinds of birds use all kinds of different materials to construct or line their nests, and you can help by offering them some useful items, such as human and animal hair (when you brush Fido or Mittens, collect the fur and put it out for your birds to use), strips of cloth, and yarn.
Don’t give them the lint from your drier, as that can contain harmful chemicals, and can also get wet and soggy – neither of which will be good for the birds. You can simply stuff your offerings into a suet cage, or you can purchase inexpensive, ready-made nesting material bundles from your favorite birding supply store (like the Garden Mill).
Check hummer and oriole feeders
Check the condition of your hummingbird and oriole feeders-replace them if they are cracked. As the temperatures start to warm up, put your feeders out during the day to help early arrivers find food. If the temps dip below freezing at night, be sure to bring the feeders indoors to prevent cracking.