April 5, 2024

10 Things to Do in Spring in Your Mindful Garden.

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There can be no doubt that Spring has come where I live in the Napa Valley.

There are flowers cascading over every dale and hill. In my own garden, the blossoming began in January with crocuses and hellebores, followed quickly by narcissus and tulip. Dancing over the wild slopes beyond the garden gate, I can now see poppies and lupin, mallow, and our infamous fields of golden mustard.

The heft of the rainy season seems to be done for the year here, and even though we may still be graced with the odd shower or, more likely, the occasional sprinkle, it’s time to turn the irrigation systems back on—or, if you’re like me, remedy and repair all that’s happened since it was last in operation.

Here’s what else is on my to-do list for the garden this Spring:

1. This is really the last time to get in any last bare root roses, perennial shrubs, natives, or vegetables like asparagus, rhubarb, and tree collards or fruit trees. All of these things want to be established and rooted deeply before the hot, dry months of summer—although you can still plant other, smaller perennials, such as thyme and strawberries, for several more months.

2. Do you still have to prune your roses and fruit trees? I do. It should have been done already, truly, but here we are and with roses especially, I don’t want to take the chance of going into the warmer months with any decaying foliage anywhere. I probably won’t do any dramatic cane or branch removal at this point unless they’re truly dying or just plain puny, but those yellow leaves have to go, especially if there is any sign of blackspot or rust.

3. It is now the high season of summer crop sowing—that is, if you have any propagation space indoors, a greenhouse, a sunny window, or a neighbor with a sunny window. So many of the things that we all associate with gardening get sown inside now, if they haven’t been sown already: tomatoes and squash, beans and basil, carrots and cosmos, sunflowers and sun-loving zinnias. If, like me, you didn’t sow hardy annuals like calendulas, snapdragons, and poppies last fall, you can try them again now, and if your soil is good and your sunshine bright, you’re unlikely to notice too much difference from those sown in the autumn.

4. This can be a great time for taking perennial cuttings. I just did elderberry cuttings two weeks ago and am going in for another round this weekend. I have lavender cuttings going in my window box in the bathroom and plan to add rosemary beside them over the next couple of days; roses make absolutely lovely cuttings once their new growth gets lush, and though they may be far from your mind because they won’t flower until the fall, this is the time to take chrysanthemum cuttings, which will quickly outproduce their flagging parents.

5. It’s time to break out those dahlias! Although many gardeners don’t recommend planting them out until you’re sure the soil is warm enough, you can get a head start on your blooms by pre-sprouting the tubers indoors, either in small pots or upcycled containers, such as milk cartons. Dahlias are the essence of both old-timey cottage gardens and the unofficial emblem of the modern flower farmer movement taking Instagram by storm; their bright, sunny faces, their utterly sumptuous colors, and their scrumptious blossom shapes make them nearly universally adored. Every year, I swear I won’t buy more dahlias, as they can be quite pricey and I’ve lost quite a few to hens and powdery mildew—and every year, I buy more dahlias. Beware.

6. It’s also time to break out the sweet peas and any other hardy annual that you did plant in autumn but haven’t yet put in the ground. My sweet peas have been hanging out outside in a sheltered place for a month or more at this point; last week I gave them all a good pinch, and this coming week I plan to transplant them into the garden on a warm, sunny morning when I’m supposed to be working.

7. Feed your soil. If you’re practicing no-dig or a similar regenerative gardening method that is focused on nourishing diverse, abundant microbial life in your soil (and if you aren’t, why on earth not?), now is a good time to spread on a layer of compost and mulch, or drench with worm tea or fermented comfrey tea, or whatever it is that you do. I do all of the above.

8. Feed your plants. March is also a good time to feed plants in containers or perennials that are heavy feeders; my newest British gardening hera, Jekka McVicar, has a ritual known as “Feeding Friday” where she goes about and feeds all 600-some plants in containers in her herbarium garden. Jekka is known as the “Queen of Herbs” and has more than once exhibited at Chelsea, so there are worse things than following in her footsteps. Many plants grow slowly or are utterly dormant in winter, and besides it is cold and wet out, so I don’t bother with feeding before March; with the warmer temperatures both in air and soil, I find this is a great time to recommit to the practice. Generally, I feed with seaweed or kelp-based fertilizers, which are totally organic and natural, as well as worm tea that I’ve made from castings out of the worm bin.

9. Plant native pollinator plants, whether home-sown or nursery-bought. All of your favorite garden vegetables, the fruit from your trees, your berries and grapes will benefit from abundant pollinator life—as well as your own heart and soul. Many of these native pollinator plants also make great herbal tonics, such as those elderberry cuttings I mentioned above, and the yarrow, nettles, and poppies that I’m sowing to plant in my tiny urban orchard (the absolute best place to get started or learn more about natives is Doug Tallamy’s work on keystone species).

10. Fall in love with gardening again. This is truly one of the prettiest, kindest, most lush, and loving time of year for nature-loving folks. Go out and walk amongst your plants; touch their emerging foliage. Whisper secret nothings to them. Clear out the weeds and thank them for contributing to the soil web in life and continuing to feed the soil as compost. Harvest fronds of young lettuce and asparagus spears if you’re lucky enough to have them—peas and favas, and all the flowers we find ourselves immersed in. Give the birds the gift of a bird bath or a new feeder. Pick mushrooms you find pushing up through the soil and make a pretty bowl out of them to display on your mantle. Delight and delve into the beauty of this time of year. There is truly no better time to be a mindful gardener.


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