Dirt-y Secrets: Spring has (mostly) arrived

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

“It is one of those April days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold, when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens

It looks like spring has arrived! Bulbs are sprouting (some even blooming) and the air smells fresh and warm — sometimes. We here in North Idaho can experience snow flurries to sunshine in an hour. Which is why gardeners need to pay attention to the weather forecasters. Frost is possible virtually anytime, but mid-May is usually when frost visits less often.

If you have tulips, you probably don’t have deer. Or you have put them behind a fence. Deer really consider your tulips to be candy, and daffodils are more like Brussels sprouts. Not that they won’t eat them, but they will only eat them after exhausting supplies of more attractive plants. The same goes for hyacinth and crocus, but I have never had a deer munch on alliums — too oniony! So, plant your not-so-tasty bulbs in open areas and your tulips in protected spaces. 

Above photo: These weeding tools can be picked up at the Co-Op in Ponderay. Courtesy photo.

Swallows and hummingbirds are back and eager to start families. Robins, chickadees, woodpeckers, starlings, sparrows and eagles are all mating and staking out their own territories. Nests are being built, eggs are being laid and soon we will hear those baby birds cheeping. Then, in just a few weeks, they will fledge. Soon after, their parents will begin again. 

Some birds raise several clutches. If you have bird houses, be sure to place them near a hedge or a leafy tree so that birds can seek cover from predators. And, if you have cats, try putting a bell on their collar. In the United States alone, 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds are killed by domestic cats each year.

Right now, bees are eager to get to work and pollinate up a storm. But, unless the days are above 50 degrees, they are staying in their cozy hive, crevasse or nest tube. They will wait until conditions are right and blossoms are out to get to work. 

I am experimenting with my mason bees this year. Instead of storing the cocoons in the crisper section of my fridge, I left them in place in the bee houses. And I did not buy cocoons this year. Instead, I am hoping wild bees will move into the houses. This was as much a result of laziness as early snow this year. 

Mother’s Day is coming up soon (on Sunday, May 14) and, if your mom appreciates flowers — and who doesn’t — I’d like to suggest a pot or a basket planted by you. You can include her favorite flowers. If her favorites are the summer standbys like zinnias, petunias, marigolds, begonias, etc., be careful to keep them from freezing. However, you can plant pansies, creeping Jenny, primroses and violas without fear. Or, if that sounds like too much, you can get a ready-made basket at one of our fine local nurseries. Or, a gift certificate to a nursery is a worthy gift.

I almost hate to say it, but now is the time to pay attention to weeds. Get them before they take over. I use my trusty squirt bottle of vinegar and dish soap if the weeds aren’t close to the plant I am nurturing because, of course, vinegar kills everything. And, you must really soak them. And, not on a rainy day. If you can’t squirt, use your trowel to get them out. Always try to get the root. There is also a handy tool that pries them out neatly. The Co-Op in Ponderay has them.

If you are reading this before mid-May and thinking of planting summer flowers in the garden or on your front porch, hold your horses! In our area, frost can surprise you. Watch the weather forecast and if frost is predicted and your plants are exposed, cover them. I use frost cloth, but you can use an old sheet or table cloth. Newspapers will do in a pinch, but they tend to blow away.  

Finally, I am again urging everyone to use organic garden condiments: no Weed & Feed, no Turf Builder, etc. That is because those products, and many others, contain toxic chemicals that can end up in our lake and in you. Absolutely no Roundup, in spite of all of the attractive ads. Good old steer manure (composted, to avoid weeds) and any of the many organic fertilizers that are readily available work beautifully.

Until April showers bring May flowers!

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