Skyphos lettuce thriving in the greenhouse. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Skyphos lettuce thriving in the greenhouse. (Photo by Rosemary Fitzpatrick)

Face the challenge of a cold spring

  • By Rosemary Fitzpatrick
  • Thursday, May 10, 2018 1:30pm
  • News

This isn’t our first cold spring. Granted, it’s been a long time since we got to experience one of these. But here it is and we all need to face the challenge.

Back off on working your garden beds. The soil is too wet. If you attempt to cultivate wet soil you will end up with rock hard clumps that will haunt you all season. Trust me on this.

Go ahead and pull weeds; they are impatiently waiting for you, ready to overtake your best intentions the moment they sense your weakness. The dandelion tap root is still frozen at my house elevation of 396 feet. When I attempt to dig it out it snaps and we all know the effort put into removing a partial root will be for naught. I intend on waiting for the ground to warm before I take another foray into dandelion control. But the rest of the weeds —- mostly variations on chickweed and nettles — are pulling out quite readily. Horse tails (equisetum) are just starting to show. It really is everywhere so don’t feel like you are alone. Just snap off the top. The root delves down 14 feet and if you have what it takes to remove the whole root mass, good for you. I, on the other hand, snap. They are one of the first plants to show in the spring and consequently one of the first to fade. It will be most obvious in open ground so keep an eye on your perennial beds. Wait it out while you snap.

I treat moss like a weed. There is too much of it everywhere. This started last season and looks like it may continue into this one. Methinks there is too much moisture going on here and the moss is thriving. I have just spent the afternoon removing it with my hands and the edge of the EZ Digger, my favorite tool. It has a short handle (although you can get them with a long handle) and a curved, pointed blade. I use it for everything — weeding, transplanting, cultivating. I give them as gifts, that’s how much I love them.

The moss is in the perennial beds and the lawn. I don’t much care about the lawn; it can take care of itself, but the perennials are not to be messed with so I have come to their defense.

The lawn has done more heaving this year than ever. It is the most lumpy, bumpy mess to behold. There are parts of it that need to be mowed and other areas that are too wet to touch. We shouldn’t even be walking on it when it’s this wet. If yours is in this same condition, just give it some time and patience. There is more rain/snow in our near future and we need to wait out the weather.

Of course I don’t always pay attention to me. So there I was attempting to dig up a delphinium to divide so it could be given away. So there I am, digging away and “chink, chink, chink” goes the spade and I’m thinking: there can’t be rocks here. There weren’t, the ground was frozen. The root ball got yanked out anyway, leaving behind a good bit of itself. That was the last large perennial I dug, for now.

The little ones, campanula “Clips,” come in white and blue, is low growing (about 10 to 12 inches) and forms a tight clump. I really like these: they bloom forever, stay tidy, require little from me and are easy to divide. Perfect. So I dug out a clump and tore it apart, putting the pieces here and there. Lovely.

I also dug up a 20-year-old bleeding heart. Now, really, why did I do that? It was gorgeous. The north side of the house is where the entry is and bleeding hearts are thriving there. Perhaps a little too well. This one in particular was blocking the stairs to the entry. I have tried staking it back, pruning it, cajoling it to behave. Nope. It had insisted on flowing into the traffic pattern. I’ve never dug one up before. It is a very odd root. I put a large chunk of it in the East Garden, and gave away the rest — and there was a lot to give. Good luck to the those brave enough to accept a chunk. They have promised to let me know how it all goes.

I am a believer in perennials that are tried and true. They make life easier. They will reward us with gorgeous color come summer, settle in for the winter, and come spring (yes, this is spring) show life even though it is cold, wet, windy and we don’t really want to be out there with them. Every single perennial is showing signs of life at this very moment. Our local nurseries are stocked with just what we need to create a garden. Although I don’t do much in the way of design I would like to offer a suggestion: Stick with about six different kinds, keep your colors complementary, and plant a lot of one thing together for impact. There. That’s all I have on design. It works for me.

A greenhouse is an amazing structure. It has been kept unusually cool this spring. We turned the heat on the first of April, and although I like to let it go no lower than 40 degrees that didn’t seem to work this season. There is a high/low thermometer out there and almost every morning it had dipped to 36 degrees. In spite of this the tomatoes are blooming and we are eating lettuce. The radishes will be ready in about three days. All is well out there. I really think too much heat is the challenge with a greenhouse. The temperature can shoot up to 100 in the blink of an eye. I have kept the vents open, set the fan for 80 degrees, and even opened the door for a few hours on sunny days. We tend to focus on heating a greenhouse and perhaps don’t give cooling it enough thought. There are at least a million flats out there of annuals and vegetables all appreciating the cooler temperatures. Keep this in mind.

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

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