The Garden Gate: The Challenges of Spring | ACCENT


“Generosity is giving more than you can afford.” – Khalil Gibran

It’s one of the hardest times of the year for me, the time right before I’m supposed to leave and run to do all the gardening things I need to. All plant needs are time sensitive…too early for this one, too late for that one, and too soggy for the others, but I’m happy to dig. I know there is a time and a season for everything and the right time will come.

I like books! One of my favorite “flavors” is easy-to-understand gardening books that I can recommend. It’s called “Tough Garden Plants for Southern Gardens” by Felder Rushing, and it’s good information and an enjoyable read. It covers shrubs, perennials, grasses, and even a section on “porch plants,” all written with humor and in simple terms. What’s your favorite gardening read? Who is your “soil doctor”? I suggest you find someone you really trust in tillage and follow their recipe to the letter. Then you will know if it works.

Even though there isn’t much to do outside yet, I can suggest a few things that might keep you from rusting.

Check newly emerging plants for the first outbreak of aphids and other insects. I found a good infestation of green aphids on the new iris leaves and sprayed them with a solution of 1 tbsp. Murphy’s soap in a liter of lukewarm water. I’ve used the same solution on my young pines, where I’ve had problems with early borer outbreaks before. Insects are just as eager as we are to take care of ourselves!

March is a good time to dig in and split your moms. If you’re not sure where you want to put the extras, put them in jars for now. If you plant them, make sure they have good drainage and are in full sun. When they’re about 8 inches tall, pinch them in half, then maintain a 4-inch tall until early July (the little saying, “4 inches tall until the 4th of July” helps). After that, the short, bushy plants will soon be covered with loads of buds.

Other perennials to divide now are daylilies, garden phloxes, hostas and monkey grass.

If you’ve overwintered your geraniums, get those scruffy kids out and start feeding and watering them. On days above 55, place them outdoors, but remember to bring them indoors. When the new growth is at least 4 inches long, cut off the stems and set them to root in fresh potting soil. The old base can be composted.

If the soil is dry enough, plant summer flowering bulbs such as lilies, dahlias and crocosmia.

Start cleaning up the dieback and winter debris and put it in the compost. Add any fresh soil amendments, such as composted manure, soil amendments, etc., now. Ruff up the old mulch (I hope it’s pine straw!) and dress the beds with fresh, before the tender plants start to grow.

If you have trees that have been staked for the winter, check their bindings to see if they are cutting through the bark. If they have been staked for 6 months or more, they should be released from the stake. It’s best to let them hold up against the wind as soon as they can.

If you have new plants in the plan this year, get some stakes and paint the top 4 inches a bright color. Put them in the ground where you plan to plant the new stuff. This will help you get a feel for balance and placement. Are you looking for formal or informal? Screening or delimitation? You can completely change your mind.

Does your favorite forsythia look overgrown? Then it’s time to prune, not shear. Wait for the flowers to fade. Go down below the shrub and cut off the oldest branches as close to the ground as possible, leaving the remaining branches intact, to maintain the graceful shape.

Haven’t decided which vegetables to plant in the garden yet? Check your grocery receipt. A quick glance will tell you what you buy often, in the produce aisle, and I bet you can grow a lot of them. Or buy from a local source.

Hopefully by the end of the month it will be dry enough to start bringing out some of the cool season vegetables like peas, lettuce, onions, cabbage and maybe potatoes. Summer is coming, but until then I’m going to enjoy the fleeting spring!

Sherrie Ottinger, aka “The TN Dirtgirl”, is an Earth Regenerative thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. His passion is all things “dirt”. She can be contacted at with comments or questions.


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