(Chelsea Update is pleased and excited to add another new columnist to its ranks. Jennifer Fairfield is a member of Chelsea Area Garden Club and the owner of The Garden Mill. When she’s not out in her garden or running her business, she’ll periodically provide more columns.)
I will try to provide information on what you can be doing in the garden at different times, as well as tips and fun facts on gardening and birding.
And, I hope you will play an active part in these discussions by submitting your own tips and questions so that we can share them at [email protected]Please submit your questions, tips, and fun facts.
Our favorite submission each month will win a special prize.
That said, on with the show.
Is it time to work in the garden?
Now is definitely the time to do your garden clean-up, so that you don’t get caught with your beds unmade when it comes time to plant.
It could also be time to plant some things, depending on the condition of your soil, but don’t rush the planting – it could lead to more problems than it’s worth.
For the birds:
Put up birdhouses, or clean out existing ones. Many birds will not build a nest on top of an old one. Get this chore done early so your returning birds know they have a place to call home.
Garden clean-up chores:
Temporarily pulling mulch away from your plantings can help the soil warm up more quickly. If you are adding new mulch, wait until the soil has warmed up fully – usually after Mother’s Day, or even as late as Memorial Day weekend.
If you put down new mulch too soon, you can actually keep the soil from warming up, and slow your plants’ growth and flowering. Of course, if it heats up quickly again this year, you’ll want to get that mulch back in place right away, to keep moisture in.
And one more caution – if we get a really cold snap after you have pulled your mulch back, you will want to cover up those plants again to keep the roots from being shocked by that cold.
Once you have pulled back your mulch, you can add a top dressing of compost to help improve soil structure and fertility.
If you left dead plants in your beds for winter interest (or just because you didn’t get around to pulling them) now’s the time to pull them out.
Cut back your herbaceous perennials and grasses now, too, but wait a little bit longer to cut back semi-woody and woody perennials.
Cutting back roses and other semi-woody or woody perennials too early leaves emerging buds susceptible to killing frosts that we may still get. Mid-to late-April is the time to do this chore.
Now is the time to prune your fruit-bearing trees, but be aware that they form buds on last year’s growth, so, too much pruning will reduce yields. You can also still prune other deciduous trees, but wait a bit to prune maple, birch, and walnut trees to avoid excess “bleeding.”
Have your soil tested. If your soil isn’t frozen, doing a soil test now will give you important information about what you need to do to make sure it’s in great shape for your plants.
Clean and sharpen your tools, or consider replacing old ones that are not in good shape anymore.
Now for the fun stuff – the planting
Only start planting if your soil is ready. How do you know? Take a handful of soil and squeeze it. When you open your hand, if the ball stays together, it’s too wet. If it falls apart and is a bit crumbly (and you can encourage it with a little poke – that’s not cheating), then it’s safe to venture into the garden.
The biggest problem you face with soil that’s not ready is the risk of compacting wet soil, which is really bad for trying to grow things in. If your soil is ready, it’s safe to do a few planting activities now:
Divide hostas, phlox, daylilies, and other emerging perennials, as well as ornamental grasses.
Plant cold hardy annuals and bulbs, such as pansies and ranunculus for early spring color, but wait to plant out most annuals until all danger of frost has passed – you will just end up with dead flowers if you rush things.
In the veggie garden, plant spinach, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, radishes, onions, and potatoes.
As the weather continues to improve, I’ll continue to pass on information for what you can be doing in your garden, from me and from your fellow gardeners, as well as other resources.
FYI: The Garden Mill now carries seeds from Ann Arbor Seed Company. It’s a new, local company that cultivates open-pollinated vegetable and ornamental seeds in Washtenaw County.