B. B. Mackey Books

Garden Tips for Spring

 

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 Make a Composter

Composting does not have to be complicated. You can make an inexpensive weatherproof composter in minutes, by making a ring of chicken wire to contain the leaves and clippings to be composted. Set it on top of the soil, in a place that is easy to get to but hidden from view. I have several compost rings located in the back of the garden behind several thick rhododendrons.

1. Buy or find a length of chicken wire (mesh) about 2 to 3 feet high and 12 to 15 feet long. It will probably be tightly rolled. It is available at hardware stores. I recently bought some for 59 cents a foot.

2. Take the roll to the desired location. Connect the two ends by twisting pieces of the wire together. It may work best if you roll it in the opposite direction from the way it wants to go.

3. Start filling the mesh circle with sticks, leaves, kitchen waste, weeds, and such. You can even add some pine branches around the outside to provide camouflage. If you put in kitchen scraps such as lettuce leaves, orange peels, bean ends, and carrot peels, cover them up with a layer of brown leaves or garden trash to deter animal visitors.

4. Do not add meat or bones to the pile, so as not to attract animals.

5. The smaller the bits, the sooner you get compost. But everything biodegradeable will eventually break down into compost.

6. Add about 3 parts of brown bits such as old leaves to 1 part of green or fresh vegetable matter such as grass clippings, for a good, fast compost.

7. After several months or more, when the compost is finished, unhook the ends of the chickenwire ring and remove it. Set it up in another place nearby and add any unfinished compost from the top of the pile. Then you have clear access to nice, brown compost which is ready to add to garden soil or potting mixtures.

8. Don't want to buy anything? Just make a circle of upright sticks or tree branches (set a few inches apart) to use as your composter. Hide it behind a bush or something because it looks messy. Thread vines or twine around to make a rough basketlike deal out of them. Then pile the leaves and trimmings in for the compost. The organic material all degrades, including the sticks used to form the composter.

 

Mulching with Cardboard

Where normal efforts have failed, you can build a barrier that will prevent persistent weeds from returning. Designate your problem areas and lightly clean them. Then cover them completely with a layer of flattened cardboard such as supermarket boxes. Make sure to leave your desired plants uncovered but surrounded by cardboard. Then cover the cardboard with a layer of wood chips or mulch several inches thick.

 

Direct Sowing

After this long, oppressive winter, we all love to be outside again. Plants prefer to grow outside too. It's surprising, but plants grown outdoors from seed can sometimes catch up with or even overtake those started indoors on a windowsill. They grow fast outdoors becase the light and conditions are ideal. Some good candidates for fast outdoor growth are flowers and vegetables with larger seeds. After all danger of frost has passed in your area, you can follow package directions and grow marigolds, nasturtium (illustrated here), cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers, cucumbers, beans, and squash. These all sprout and grow quickly, and need lots of space. Other plants with tiny seeds (such as impatiens, lisianthus, snapdragons, peppers, eggplants, and onions grow too slowly for a late spring outdoor start, unless you live in a warm climate with a long growing season.

Dividing and Transplanting

Cool, rainy weather is a help when you are moving plants around. Planting, transplanting, and dividing plants adds stress because roots may be damaged and leaves or stems may be nicked or bruised. The plants lose water more easily. But, in cool or mild weather and with overcast skies, less water evaporates and the plants do not have to work as hard to keep all the cells pumped up with water and nutrients. What is the worst weather for this? A hot,sunny, breezy day that dries the plants out too fast. Overcome it by putting a box or cover over the plant you have transplanted for a few hours while it adjusts to the move.dividing hostas in early spring

 

Pinching Back

Would you like your flowers to be more flowery? Most annual flowers and some kinds of perennials perform better if they are pinched back. This means that the topmost growing tip is pinched or cut off, inducing the plant to form side branches which flower. Marigolds, zinnias, daisies, dahlias, cosmos, and chrysanthemums are some of the plants that branch and benefit from pinching. Surprisingly, foxgloves do too, and it is particularly effective if you pinch them back before the first stalk is in bloom. Side shoots appear to give you a cluster of flower stalks where otherwise there would be only one stalk. But do not pinch back flowers that do not form new branches. Daylilies and oriental poppies don't branch this way, so they lose their blooms if you pinch them back. However, all garden flowers benefit from deadheading (removing the spent flower) unless you are trying to harvest the seeds. If you have a particular plant you are wondering about, write to me at bbmackey@prodigy.net.