in the Spring Garden what's going on and what tasks
are necessary in the spring garden. (in my zone 4, York Region
gardens, "spring" means mid-April/mid-May). It's a VERY busy
time of the gardening season with important tasks that won't
You may have noticed as you browse around these pages, that
I've scattered a few favourite gardening quotes around. Here's
one that I think of most at this time of year - "Spring
has hit with a visual thunderclap followed by trumpet flourishes."Diane Ackerman in CULTIVATING DELIGHT: A natural History of My
more topics and in-depth articles, visit our
new web site at -
LOCAL guide to all things
gardening in York Region link
Nothing better describes spring in our part of the
world! Tumultuous weather see-sawing from winter to
summer in just a day ... brown turning to green in the blink of an
eye ... surprisingly bold colour in the flowers that bloom at this
time of year ... sun so strong it dazzles the eyes ... birds hopping
and flitting everywhere as though they were literally dancing ...
air full of the scents of earth and dew ... ice crashing on the
lakes as frost loses its grip ... life literally bursting out around
us after a long winter sleep. A "visual thunderclap with
trumpet flourishes", indeed!
Of all the tasks that should be done through the whole
gardening season, at least half of them are best done in these
opening weeks of April & May. In our climate zone 4, early
April is usually still a frustrating mix of warm sunny days followed
by snow and cold, preventing us from getting out there until things
dry up enough. So once warm enough and dry enough weather
finally comes, gardeners are like racers waiting for the starting
gate to open!
I have to confess though that I find it hard to consider all these
necessary tasks as "work" though. Having so much practical
need to stay outside, with noses, eyes, ears and hands deep in
the "thunderclap" of spring, all the while playing in the dirt and
getting up-close with the earth with childlike intensity again, is
I have to deeply thank Diane Ackerman for coming up with that
wonderful phrase in her book. When it comes to mind, as it
always does in late March as I wait at my own starting gate, all the
"work" I have to do in both my own and my many clients' gardens,
immediately becomes something to look forward to rather than dread.
So ... happy spring everyone! The
"thunderclapping" will start soon. Evelyn
(An April 3rd 2019 "My Garden Diary"entry
that grew too long for the space allotted!)
...from my "Dirty Knees" email
newsletter, March 18th 2011 March to-do's. ... already lots you
can do for a jump start on the season.
This is the time of the garden season when weather forecast
watching becomes a bit of an obsession in itself for us.
Will winter come for a day or two again and frost bite emerging
plants? Will spring rush to summer’s warmth too quickly for a
good Tulip show? Any freezing rain in the forecast
that will pool and rot the crown of plants just stirring from
Here in our zone 4 northern York Region gardening climate,
it’s very frustrating to make plans for a spring garden since
“spring” is so different from one year to the next. At
this point “They” are calling for a long cool spring this
year. While this sounds discouraging for cottagers,
campers, and the winter hibernators
among us (like me!), this is good news for
gardens! Long and cool is what all spring blooming
plants need for a good long show. (I planted tons of tulips
last year and can’t wait to see how many the squirrels left for me.)
In my own garden I love to include some plants that bloom in very
early spring. Seeing flower buds opening amid the last of the
melting snow is more heartening for a winter weary gardener than any
good weather forecast could be. The last of the
lingering snow cover in my garden just melted off yesterday to
reveal Hellebore flower buds just days away from opening and the
first few flowers are opening on my Witchhazel ‘Diane’ in a rich
deep red. I like to think of these super early
signs of the many flowers to come, as Mother Nature declaring her
superior weather forecasting skills – if she says it’s OK
for her subjects to start the growing season, then it must be
Late March To-Do list –
~ try not to let spring fever get the better of
you! In the middle of March while watching early spring
flowers come along, it’s hard to remember that we’re still a
full 8 weeks away from our climate zone’s last frost date in late
May, when it's fully safe to plant tender annuals and veggies,
and that it’s very likely we’ll still get lots of below zero
nights. ~ Don’t uncover any broadleaved evergreens
protected from winter damage with burlap or pine boughs yet – Rhododendrons
or Pieris in particular. Their flower buds are very
sensitive to damage from these late spring frosts during the intense
sunshine of spring that is fooling them into blooming too early. ~ Start weeding! The very definition
of a “weed” is a plant that knows how to outwit more well-behaved
plants. One way they do this is by germinating seed extremely
early, or are evergreen and ready to zoom into flower and drop seed
before being bullied out by main season plants. We haven’t
even had a chance to dust off gardening tools for the new season yet
before chickweed, for example, is blooming and dropping
seed! It's still pretty mucky at this time of year but
as soon as you can, get out there and dig up all the evergreen weeds
you probably didn’t even notice were there last fall. (see
side note "tip" on wet soil). Easy to
find at this time of year since they’re often the only thing in a
garden that’s green in March and early April! Get them
before they drop seed which may only be a couple of weeks from
now. on WET SPRING
Walking on your garden's soil or on your lawn when it is very
wet, as it is in spring before ground thaw is complete, can
cause permanent damage to the soil. It compacts and
doesn't regroup once it's dried out. Get out there early
in spring by all means - get those weeds early ... plant
some new things ... but lay out a wide board to walk on to
spread your weight to protect the soil.~ Make a
plan for your lawn’s Corn Gluten application to prevent this
year’s crop of new weeds in your lawn. Overwintered weed
seeds will be germinating over the next few weeks and corn gluten
will kill them before they have a chance to open and develop
roots. Overseeding with new grass seed in spring is also a
good standard practice, but careful - corn gluten will kill those
seeds as they germinate too, so timing is important - that's why
laying out a plan on your calendar is a smart thing to do.
Corn gluten is effective at killing newly germinating seed of
any kind, for up to 6 weeks. Overseeding and applying
corn gluten are two very good things to do for natural lawn care,
but the two things must be well timed. Either apply corn
gluten now and wait 6 weeks before overseeding with grass seed, or
spread the grass seed now and wait for at least 4 weeks to allow the
grass seed to germinate and grow some roots before spreading corn
gluten. Doing both at the same time will be a
waste of the grass seed since the corn gluten will kill the newly
germinating seed. Once the new grass plants have put
down some roots, corn gluten won’t harm them at all – in fact
corn gluten is a natural source of nitrogen and will feed the
developing grass plants. Corn gluten, used correctly is
very effective at controlling weeds if used correctly and
regularly. An all natural weed ‘n feed! Getting
the timing right though is the key to its effectiveness - BEFORE the
weeds appear, not after.
... from my April 6th, 2009, email
newsletter. How to get bulbs blooming earlier than
In fall when it's the right time to plant all kinds of wonderful
spring bulbs, spring seems just too far away for me to think
about. My body aches from 7 months of hard work in my
and my clients' gardens, and it's hard to generate enthusiasm for
extra. Creative juices are also too pooped out by
September to work through the possibilities and placement, and
besides - it was a full 6 months ago when whatever bulbs I
already have, bloomed, and I can never remember where they are, or
more to the point, where more are needed. (Of course, here's
where I give myself another lecture about the need to start keeping
a proper garden journal, but ... well ... whatever!)
What do I do instead? Well,
when excitement and anticipation is high in early spring, the
grocery stores and garden centers are right there to soothe the
gardener's itch with lots of Hyacinth, Tulips, Daffodils and more -
already up and ready to bloom. You can do much more with
these spring treasures than put them on the kitchen table to tide
you through the last few weeks before your garden starts to pop!
During those teasing
warm spells in spring I purchase lots of these ready to bloom
pots, chip a hole in the semi-thawed ground and plant them!
Sometimes they are knocked down in just a couple of days by the
return of winter weather, but just as often, I get at least 2 weeks
of something colourful in my garden when all else is either white,
tan, or brown.
Worth every penny of the $7.99 it cost me! Although I've been
very cruel to these poor guys by subjecting them to this extreme,
they will regroup and be fine next year to bloom when they
should. (The Hyacinth in the picture were planted two weeks
ago and although their struggle is evident in some leaf damage, they
quickly adapted and are putting out an additional bloom or two and
most of the leaves stayed strong enough to do the job of feeding the
bulb for next year.). They usually use terrific top sized
bulbs for these spring pots, so rather than the $7.99 being a
self-indulgent waste, it's actually a bargain!
I call this my Cheater Bulbs routine and get a little thrill from
the thought that neighbours may think that I'm some kind of garden
magician, with the power to manipulate even the natural spring
blooming schedule of my plants! (Unless they catch me planting
them of course!).
from my email newsletter of April 7th, 2010 on the very unusual
Is it really here? No more freak storms like we usually get?
I keep my own temperature and weather records each March/April to
monitor the subtle changes that climate change is creating for our
gardening zone. Well ... this year's shift from winter to
spring takes the cake! Last year on this date, we
were still watching the melting of the last snow fall that left 5" on
the ground on the 4th. The ground was only partially thawed and
very little was out of the ground yet. Below are some photos
from the first week of April 2009. What a difference this year!
In my long gardening career I've never seen a spring like the one
we're experiencing this year. In hindsight, many of us could
have been out there seeding all the cool season vegetable crops and
some of the hardy annuals around the beginning or March!
I have two Witch Hazel's - 'Diane' and 'Arnold's Promise' -
that have been in bloom since March 10th; Primulas,
snowdrops, scilla, have been in bloom for at least a couple of weeks
now, and the past weekend I drove by some Forsythia in full
bloom! Apple trees and tons of other shrubs are already starting
to open their buds. At this time they're usually just starting
to swell out of dormancy!
I have a gambler's heart (I think most gardener's do), and my gut
tells me that this is really it - that we can get those veggies and
annuals in the ground and open the season with just the same level of
risk as there would be in a normal early May period. A full
month's extra growing time this year? That's huge!
The problem with being ready for some risk taking? The
garden centers aren't ready with any plants! The wholesale
/ retail side of this industry has many thousands of dollars at stake
if they risk bringing plants in too early, only to get zapped by just
one night of frost. I can't image that they'll take that risk,
which means that unless you're planting seed, you may nevertheless
need to wait for the regular planting time. What a shame, huh!
This will be a year for experimentation and note taking for
sure. The downside is that many insect pests may have also
had a very easy time overwintering in large numbers successfully,
and there's perhaps even time for an additional egg laying
cycle. The lack of snow and the extra month of warm
weather may cause an early drought season ... There's
always a cloud that comes with any silver lining.
... from an article from my
old "Dirty Knees" email newsletter from May 2014 You may notice the many references to
where these articles first appeared. I used to email a
monthly newsletter to people in my address book and also did some
writing for the local Era Banner many years ago. Many of these
articles first appeared there.
These have all been gathering dust in my old laptop, so I'm pleased
they have a new home here at YRGardening! Hope you enjoy them
as well as add another tid-bit to your gardening know-how. Evelyn To-Do's for May. These tasks won't
As anyone who has ever attended my “Think Like a Plant” gardening
lesson knows, this is the time of year I simply call “zoom zoom”!
Maximum green growth in the race to out-compete neighbours for
precious sunlight and maximum photosynthesis potential, is the only
thing on your plants’ mind in these opening days of their active
season. They're growing so fast that from morning to evening of
the same day there’s a visible difference in the perennial
garden. Was it really only a few weeks ago that the view out the
window was solid mud brown? Hard to believe!
The dandelions have certainly been doing a lot of zoom zooming in this
wet cool spring we’re having too. I don’t think I’ve ever
seen so many! Spread some corn gluten in the lawn before all
those dandelion flowers turn into thousands of dandelion seeds!
For up to 6 weeks, corn gluten will kill any seeds as they try to
germinate. [I'll post a fresh article here soon on
using corn gluten for weed control and how it works.E.
There’s so many “to-do’s” for this time of year that it’s hard to know
where to start, but here are a few to keep your available gardening
hours productively filled – Tip Pruning for height and shape
control, staggered bloom, or less flopping must be done NOW! ~ Sedum spectabile. (a.k.a.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’). Prune off the top 2” of
each stem when they're at around 6" tall. This will stimulate
branching for more compact growth and fuller flowering so they'll look
great in fall with less flopping open over winter.
~ Monarda didyma (a.k.a.
Bee Balm). If you have a large stand of
tall Bee Balm, cut the front ½ of the group of stems down by approx.
1/3 when the stand reaches around 30" tall. This will stimulate
branching to give the plant stand a more rounded look, plus, since the
pruned stems will bloom later than the unpruned ones, you’ll prolong
the bloom time of the patch.
~ Euphorbias of all types are in
bloom now. I love their chrome yellow flower cushion to partner
with the bright colours of May tulips. If they are left to drop
seed though you’ll have a few too many seedling volunteers to weed out
later in the season! Euphorbia myrsinities (a.k.a.
Donkey’s tail spurge), and E. polychroma (a.k.a.
Cushion Spurge) in particular are prolific re-seeders
and many people avoid them for this reason. But they are very
useful plants for an all season planting design because of their other
merits of good foliage colour in fall and firmly contrasting shapes.
To solve the reseeding problem, cut all the stems back,
at least by half, after the best of the flowering is done later this
month and before seed has a chance to ripen. (Discard
the trimmings in a yard waste bag rather than your compost bin so
your don't release seed in the compost bin!).
New growth will quickly fill in at a more controlled shape and will be
a lovely foliage contributor to your perennial garden design in
~ Forget-me-nots are a delightful
partner to so many other things coming up in the spring garden, but
too much of a good thing is just one season away if you let too
much seed drop. Forgets are biennials, which means
each plant blooms only once in it's lifetime - but are prolific
seeders. More appear again the following year from seed that
drops and grows their greens phase of a biennial later this summer, to
be the blooming plants for next spring. (the young seedlings
are often mistaken for "weeds" later in summer and pulled out!)
This means that as soon as the best of this spring’s blooming is over,
the entire plant can be just pulled out of the ground, roots ‘n
all, given a gentle shake to drop a few seeds, and then the
garden space can be given over to your expanding summer
perennials. No need to suffer through the tail end of
Forgets' blooming time when they stretch out and get mildewy – just
yank them out once the best of the bloom is finished or you’ll have
too much seed dropping and and an ugly mess of mildew-y stems.
~ Oriental Lilies and their arch enemy
- Red Lily Beetle! The hugely destructive Lily
Beetle is busy mating and laying eggs right now. Starting mid
May,inspect your emerging plants daily and kill any you
find. Also inspect the back of the Lily's leaves for a bright
orange line of eggs and wipe them away with a gloved hand.
a link to a detailed Lily Beetle battle plan on the "Collected
This long cool and wet spring is exactly what perennial plants
love. I sense in my capital “G” gardener’s bones that it’s
a great gardening season ahead!
Happy gardening season, ... and remember
to keep it fun! There's lots
to do, but clear a full day of all other pressing commitments and
enjoy a relaxed day of enjoying the sunshine, clear air and the much
needed exercise after a long winter. Time spend getting
ahead of problems now will reward you with triple the amount of time
in saved work later in the season. Evelyn
(We're in zone 4 on the USDA climate map, but
our Canadian zone map identifies this area with their own boundary
system as zone 5b. Both indicate the same average temps and
first / last frost dates etc - they just name the areas slightly
differently. VERY confusing though since many of the tags at
our Canadian garden centers are produced in the US, so the zone
indicated on the tag is a USDA zone number, even though you're
buying the plant in Canada! I'll post a thorough article soon
on understanding what the zones are about and how it matters to your
plant choices or where to plant them. Evelyn )
...excerpt from my
May 2011 newsletter Spring Perennials NEED the weather to stay
So hard to decide what to do in our crazy climate here in York
Region. Even in the super warm winter and very early spring of
2010, we had that late May return of winter temperatures that keeps us
on our toes - right on cue with our average last frost date for our
This photo is from late May 2010. In that unusually
early spring, lots of warmer than usual April and May temperatures
brought along the dwarf Iris, Muscari, and Bigroot Geranium, but this
freak dusting of snow in late May won't harm plants adapted to the
cool growing conditions of spring. A day or two later they
perked themselves back up and carried on. Freak super warm
weather though would have sent them packing up their flowers early
. Spring bloomers NEED cool weather to bloom well -
they're adapted to the vagaries of Mother Nature and are used to
getting dumped on!
Don't stress over a late snow fall - stress over an early
arrive of summer heat! That'll knock down your tulips
faster than any crazy cold weather would. Evelyn
... from my email
newsletter of May 2010 Spring Weather - ya never know what to
expect! But a dry spring? That's a problem!
Now that the month of April 2010 has closed, the stats are in.
According to yesterday’s Toronto Star, this has been THE warmest April
on record since records first started to kept in 1938. It’s also
the second driest on record, with just 36 millimeters of rainfall – a
full 50% less than average. (The driest April on record, since
rainfall records started to be kept at Univ. of Toronto in the 1840’s,
was in 1881 with just 2.6 millimeters.). ... and the rain we did
have, fell mostly during the first week. Here then, at the
end of what is supposed to be the wettest month of the year, the
ground is already so dry that some gardens already need watering
attention. We can apparently blame (or credit, depending
on your point of view), a lingering El Nino climate pattern.
What does this mean to our gardens? We’ve
experienced drought conditions before, but usually during the mid
summer months. The repercussions of a dry spring though is much
more challenging for our garden plants. Any of you who have
taken my gardening class in the past will perhaps remember that I call
April and early May the “Zoom zoom” period in a plant’s annual cycle,
when from one week to the next they rush to put out maximum leaf
growth to sustain them for the season. They need A LOT of
moisture to do this – more than at any other time of the season.
In response to extremely less than adequate moisture, most of the
larger perennials will likely be dwarfed this year. They’re
unlikely to die just because of inadequate water, but they’ll hunker
down and put out less growth in a survival adaptation response. Not
always a bad thing though - tighter, shorter plants means less
flopping and in some drought loving plants, more blooms.
Each gardening season's weather patterns has it's pros and
cons. They're predicting a drier than usual summer, but
I'd rather deal with drought than all the excess rain and cool
temperatures we had last year where plants had too much of a good
thing and grew tall and fat with all the water and just flopped about
as a result.
I wonder if there will EVER be a full season with just the right
amount of water through each month of the year. Too much
to ask? Probably.