Monday, March 12, 2007

March Chores

We began Spring pruning today. I had the Baron cut several large trunks from the fig – opening it up to the light, and moving the mass away from the house. It gets so overgrown in the summer that no light gets into that south corner. As a result, some of the siding at the bottom is rotted. Tomorrow I will take the clippers and neaten up the job.

The butterfly bushes were also cut – not judiciously but right down to the ground. I learned the hard way not to let them get out of hand. Otherwise nothing can grow near them. Or would want to. I like to keep them deadheaded during bloom time. It really extends their season well into Fall. But that is workable in a flower bed only if you cut them back severely in March (around here).

Our flowering cherry put out lots of ugly spouts so those went. Along with branches that too deeply shade the flower bed below it. I never expected it to grown so tall or so deeply branched. Its mate – both of them being bought at the end of a season some years ago for five dollars each-- is planted in the herb bed; it is so much smaller than the one by the house that they no longer resemble each other.

I meant to gather the branches and leave them to bloom inside but forgot them before dark. I hope I can salvage them tomorrow.

Arkansas Black appleI gingerly climbed the stepladder (ever since I fell off that ladder and shredded the meniscus on my left knee, the Baron gets nervous when I venture near it) and began pruning the old apple tree, removing suckers and branches that crossed through the middle. Its mate died off finally last year – so dead that even the remaining flat stump is a little spongy and rotten. Meanwhile the live one will take a bit of work since I didn’t prune it last year. The light was fading by the time I’d cleared the western side of the tree. I don’t know how much longer it has, either. I think I will replace them both with Arkansas Blacks. That is one fine apple. Or maybe Albemarle Pippins. Now wouldn’t that be a treat?

I was wicked with the viburnum. I know you’re not supposed to prune them until after they flower, but I don’t like the shape of this one and I keep trying to work it into something more attractive. Maybe I just don’t like viburnums.

We prepped my “hot box” for seedlings. This little green house is a rectangular wooden frame whose bottom is a piece of foam core insulation cut to fit and nailed on. A storm window fits perfectly onto this rig. The window can be moved a bit as the temperature requires. For very cold nights – of which there will be many between now and May 1st, I have encased an old blanket in plastic – the plastic being rainproof – and it will lie across the window, insulating the box. The whole thing is on the well house roof, which makes it easy to maintain.

Today I cleaned out the winter trash – oak leaves and acorns galore, plus over-wintered little azaleas I need to stick somewhere. Then I put in some prime potting soil. This bag of soil lay on the ground next to the well house all through the winter. When we opened it, I noticed lots of worms already active. They probably liked the ground lobster particles and seaweed.

Last year, I planted many of my annual seeds directly into the soil in the box. This year, I am going to fill the plastic six-celled planters with potting mixture instead and line the box with them. However, with love-in-a-mist, I’ll try a direct seeding into the ground. They don’t seem to move well and I’d like to get a patch established somewhere once and for all.

The nice thing about this homemade green house is that all summer I can bed plants I’m trying to root or move things to a holding place until I can decide where to put them. Wish I’d had one of these years ago.

antique shadesThe daffodils and spring crocus are blooming. Even a couple of hyacinths. The pansies are putting out flowers, but haven’t spread much yet. I see some holes where a few died off during the winter. Will have to fill those soon – I love the antique colors, though some years I’ve done blues and white. And last year I did that strange orange variety. It sure did light up the place. Most of the tulips survived the voles – that trick with Bon Ami in the hole must have worked. It will be weeks before they bloom, though, and then the hostas will come along to cover their straggly ending.

Some unnamed bulb, which must have traveled in with a nursery plant, is springing up everywhere, green and lush. In May, it has a pretty, though not particularly distinctive white flower. This mystery guest, who has been around for about three years now, is more invasive than wild onion. I wait for moist soil and yank up mounds of them and put them in the trash. You have to yank slowly and twist a bit or all you get is greenery. They would be nice naturalized somewhere in a large wildflower plot, but they’re tiresome guests in small beds and large lawns.

I love March – all new beginnings. It has difficult parts, too, because March is Shelagh’s birthday. I never think “March was Shelagh’s birthday. Even though this will be the fourth anniversary of her death, I am still inclined to think of her in the present tense. Shelagh and the Baron shared the same birth date…no matter what I do his birthday now has a permanent shadow.


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