Gardening should be enjoyed; pick your battles

Busy. This is the point in the gardening season that so much happens at once. We have had a long spring, very unusual, and the extra days have been a boon to say the least. Nevertheless, there is much to be done. For those of you with a career and/or families now is the time to pick your battles. Prioritize. Make a list. Do whatever it takes to make your gardening experience a positive one.

I like to feed the perennial and vegetable beds with a light dusting of compost mixed with aged manure and shredded alfalfa. I use the big cubes that are usually fed to horses. We run them through our shredder. I use a wheelbarrow and shovel in mostly compost, a couple shovels of the manure and a couple of the shredded alfalfa. Mix this throughly and then broadcast it lightly over the beds. In the fall the vegetable garden got a generous amount of compost. This mixture is a spring feeding that seems to make all of the plants ever so vigorous, and its relatively easy to do. I lightly cultivate this mixture into the beds using the long handled cultivator that will save your back.

Be aware of any self-sown seedlings. This is serendipitous gardening. The seedlings from last year’s annuals that you did not deadhead will be showing up now. They will be here and there, which makes for interesting combinations and a general delight in the whole garden scheme. Honor their presence and don’t do any cultivating. The light broadcast of the mixture will work its way in with the rains that are sure to come.

I have planted the edible pod peas, a short row of radish and another of lettuce. I like to plant a short row of radish and lettuce every 10 days throughout the season. The sooner we can be eating from the garden the better. The radishes and lettuce are doing great in the greenhouse and will soon be harvested, but the time is now to sow these seeds outside. There are lettuce starts that will be set out mid May, but for now they are staying in the greenhouse.

The garlic (two kinds) and shallot starts are in the cold frame. It gets too hot in the greenhouse for them and they are thriving in the cold frame. It took me too long to figure out how to use this tool. Granted, it is empty most of the season but when I need it, like now, it is amazing to have. If it were bigger I would have all the cole crops out there too. As it is I have potted up these crops so they have more room for root development and will be ready to go outside in a couple of weeks, depending on the weather — and you never know about that weather.

Now also is the perfect time to divide your perennials. I have a very wet bed that is loaded with iris setosa (our native iris) and yellow day lilies. This is a gorgeous combination that loves a wet area. And do I ever have a wet area — there are also marsh marigolds out there, THAT’S how wet it is.

But I planted this bed 16 years ago and the time has come to divide the clumps. I have decided to make this particular bed easier to manage. Think about this as you develop/design your garden. I can’t reach across this bed, I need to walk into it and that compacts the very, very wet soil. I’m not helping anything out there by walking around in it. So, the back row is coming out so the mower can fit between the plot and the fence and I can reach across from either side. This will make life easier all around.

When you decide to divide a clump of perennials be fearless. I use a heavy fork (some folks use these to harvest potatoes) that comes in handy to turn the compost. I take out the entire clump with as little dirt as possible (that’s why you are using the fork). You will be faced with a densely tangled mess and wonder whatever are you going to do with it.

Be aggressive. I have been known to use a small saw that I keep in the garden tool bag and saw off chunks of the iris. Or the Easy Digger that is my favorite tool and give as gifts. This has a curved blade with a point on the end and I will tease the roots apart and get individual iris plants. But this year I’m going for the quick fix with the saw. A hatchet also comes in handy, just whack away. The divisions will be replanted and no worse for wear. Really.

You can do this with any perennial that forms a clump and needs dividing. They will thank you for it with profuse blooms. Delphiniums, trollius, veronica, campanula glom- erata to name a few.

This won’t work with verbascum, they have a tap root, are short lived and reseed readily so they take care of them- selves. How cool is that? The verbascum I have is called “Bold Queen.” Not only do I really like the name but the center (eye) of the bloom is the same color as the walls of the living room, effectively connecting the inside to the outside. I have a lot of that going on here. Think about that as you choose plants. I spotted a different verbascum at one of our many excellent nurseries, a deep pink, but I don’t know if they will cross pollinate and the colors will become confused in the new plants and I will end up with neither here nor there. I know that columbine will cross pollinate and the chances of losing the colors we start with are excellent. That’s fine with me when it comes to columbine. I’m as interested in their form as their color. But I really don’t want to lose “Bold Queen.”

Equisetum aka horsetails are showing up and people freak out about these each and every year. Relax. There isn’t much you can do about them. Just snap them off at the soil surface, their roots go down about 14 feet so, obviously, you won’t be getting them by the roots. They arrive in the spring and, if you keep snapping them off, will be gone in a few weeks. They spread both by root and spores, keep snapping.

There is nothing better than hearing one’s child say they have taken a parent’s advice. Our daughter lives in the Bellingham area and has a lovely garden but she fights the edges of her perennial beds. She read one of these columns where I mention how to maintain the edges and she had an “aha” moment. Excellent. If you have yet to edge your beds it certainly is not too late. Just take a sharp spade (a tool that you will find many other uses for) and clean up the edges. Done. Initially I cut a “v” into the edge but just once and it has held all of these years. All it takes is tidying up in the spring and you will be good to go.

Make a list, do a little bit almost every day, keep the plot small and you won’t be overwhelmed.

Carpe diem.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990. 

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