Happy, happy spring!
Isn’t the green glorious and, yes, even the brown – because it isn’t white. It is so nice to be back talking with all of you about flowers, gardens and sunshine.
Today’s column is going to be a bit inside and outside, because that is what gardening is this time of year. This is actually an early spring, unlike last year. I have almost all of the gardens cleaned out and weeded here on the hill. And, I didn’t have to worry about walking on soggy ground or fighting black flies. I had pansies planted for Easter morning and have had to water them.
Amazing how things change from one year to the next.
As all you gardeners know, and those just beginning will soon find out, spring is a busy, busy time in the garden. Last year, I was so eager to get the gardens cleaned that I didn’t take the time to weed when I raked. “I will get back to it,” I said to myself. Well, guess what? I didn’t get back to several spaces and I paid the price throughout the summer. So this year, I vowed to weed as I raked. That should give me a head start.
It’s a good idea to put on the first fertilizer of the season after a good soaking rain, especially when using a slow-release, long-acting fertilizer. It’s best if the ground is damp, not soggy, just damp when you add those pellets. It is also beneficial to use an organic liquid fertilizer, because the liquid has a better chance of being absorbed and used properly if the plants aren’t stressed from lack of moisture.
I have become fond of Neptune’s Harvest, an organic fish and seaweed fertilizer. It is a bit of hassle because it must be mixed, but I don’t put it everywhere, just on those showy plants like columbines, Japanese ferns and a wide variety of heavy bloomers. I use it twice during May and then the gardens all get a long-acting slow release, which takes them through the end of August. That gives you the option of cutting off food to particular plants like roses at the beginning of September when they need to start shutting down to adjust for winter. I still use the Neptune’s Harvest on the bloomers through September, because it helps strengthen their root structure.
Take note: Neither my begonias nor my succulents have reacted well to Neptune’s Harvest, but everything else seems to love it.
Certain plants seldom require fertilizer and some don’t like it at all. Sedums are not happy about being fed and tend to get leggy, while daylilies don’t seem to mind one way or the other. Dahlias, if fed, will have great foliage but fewer flowers. Treat the dahlia bed with 10-10-10 about two weeks before the bulbs are to go in, and they are set for the season. Annuals, especially in pots, require heavy feed and respond well to organics like Neptune’s Harvest (and you have a much lower chance of burning them).
Peonies are fond of organic matter in their soil; so in the fall or early spring, I add compost around them but am careful that it doesn’t intrude on the crown. I work it in as best I can and that is it. Some people and books advise feeding them lightly after they bloom, others suggest leaving them alone. Mine have been happy for years with their dose of compost.
Rhododendrons should be given a good dose of acidic plant food after they bloom, but not before.

If you couldn’t resist buying
Amaryllis are in their glory in the greenhouse throughout April and into May. That’s why I recommend them as Christmas presents. Once they bloom the first time at Christmas, they revert to their natural blooming schedule, which is early spring. They give you that color we are all craving before you see it outside.
This is also an inside-outside time because all those pretty plants at nurseries are beckoning and are hard to resist. Other than those naturally cold-hardy plants like pansies, English bellis and Icelandic poppies, most plants will not really be safe outside for awhile. So if you fall victim to buying an early plant or two (and I admit I am really guilty of this), be ready to move them in and out until we are safe from frost. This is mandatory if they are annuals. It is somewhat voluntary if they are perennials that have been outside for a week or two. Always ask if the annuals you are buying have been hardened off. If they have not, you need to do this for them to stay healthy and happy.
To harden off annuals, start moving them outside into fairly protected and partly shady surroundings for a few hours each day. Do not put them out on windy days. After a few days, lengthen the time they spend outside and the time they spend in the sunshine. If they begin to look wilted, bring them in. They should not be left out at night until all chance of frost has passed. It is fun to pot up containers early so they get a good start, but those containers need to be brought in and out as well. Garages usually work quite well for them at night.

Become a shrub sleuth
Spring is the best time to plant shrubs and trees, but choose carefully and know how big they are going to get. A little investigation will go a long way toward getting a shrub that is unique and makes you happy. Talk to people at your local nursery. They are your best source of information. Shrubs and trees are an investment of not only money but time. It is heartbreaking to plant a shrub and have it do well for a few years and then slowly go downhill because you didn’t match it to the conditions where it is planted. Go to the nursery with information like how much sun it will get, whether the area tends to be dry or wet, what winter conditions it will experience (like heavy winds from the north or east) and what form you want your shrub to have. A shrub planted in a perennial garden can add or greatly detract, depending on its leaf form, density and height.
Lastly, I am going to repeat some info on Japanese beetles, because people constantly ask me about them. I have had great success with controlling them by using beneficial nematodes. You can find these online at many nursery supply catalog sites and usually the Paris Farmer’s Union can get them for you. They are microscopic critters that need careful application. Follow the directions precisely! They need to go on around the middle to third week of May when the ground has warmed, after a rain or watering and in the evening after the sun is no longer shining. They burrow into the soil and invade the beetle larvae and kill them. If you wait later in the season, they will not work. Application for two consecutive springs will make a huge dent in your beetle population. Whatever you do, do NOT put up beetle traps.
So until next time, try to be patient just a tiny bit longer. Get some friends together and check out what’s out there in the plant world. Be very nice to your mother, especially on Mother’s Day and enjoy getting your hands in the warm soil.
Happy gardening.
Jody Goodwin has been gardening for 25-plus years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She may be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at jodyike@megalink.net.

Oddities are a must for Jody’s gardens
As many of you know, I like some odd things in my gardens. I am especially fond of items that make for good storytelling for the children. Nothing does that better than Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.
I created a new garden a few years back that is up against part of our deck and visible from it. I needed a central focal point shrub and picked Harry. It was a great decision. It is about as tall as it will get at 5 feet and is twisty and could quite easily be described as a fairy tale tree.
It is easy to imagine the elves and gnomes living amongst its twisted branches and hiding behind its large leaves. There are dwarf weeping cherries and flowering almonds that create an airy, ethereal feeling and flowering bushes that speak to old-fashioned grandma gardens. So plan carefully because, hopefully, you will have it for years.

Gardening-related events
For those who can’t make too many trips to the nursery, because there is no more room to plant, there are lots of things going on that will bring you close to gardening. For example …
May 8, 9 & 10: Friday, May 8, is National Public Gardens Day and McLaughlin Garden in Paris will participate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It kicks off the Saturday and Sunday Wildflower Celebration, which features plant sales and special treats for moms. For more information and McLaughlin’s summer schedule of events, go to www.mclaughlingarden.org or call 743-8820.
May 15-17: Northern New England Home Garden and Flower Show at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds. I missed this last year but heard it was a terrific show with lots of displays and fun gardening products. For more info, go to homegardenflowershow.com.
May 30: Workshop at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Museum called “A Garden of Simple Abundance” centered around companion planting, organic methods and raised bed gardening. You need to enroll in this one ahead of time, because attendance is limited. For more info and the museum’s summer schedule, go to usshakers@aol.com or call 926-4597.

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