Be Loyal to Your Soil

Spring may be near, but listen up, itchy gardeners: scratch that itch somewhere other than on your gardens and lawns. This is the absolute worst time to be treading on soil. It’s icy cold, the tops layers are saturated with moisture, and although it’s just “dirt” (not!) it’s darn susceptible to heavy foot traffic. Soil compaction squeezes out precious air space and compresses that fabulous soil network of beneficial fungi, microbes, and molecular complexes that roots need to produce healthy growth. I do my gardens and landscape no favors by getting a jump on the season if it means tramping all over that precious soil.

So, what’s an itchy gardener to do? I spend a lot of time gawking from a distance, feet planted on garden paths and deck, notebook and pencil in hand. My office mate thinks pencils are obsolete, but my trusty stub always writes on soggy, grubby notepaper.

Prune broken blueberry branches

Prune broken blueberry branches

It’s easy to spot winter damage on the blueberries caused by a too-heavy snow blanket (note to self about going easy when shoveling off the deck above.) They’ll need a trim soon. The ornamental grasses look pretty shaggy; I’ve scheduled a “haircut” for April 9th before the first green shoots appear. This year I left a lot of standing vegetation in our flower gardens to serve as safe havens for beneficial critters.

Shaggy grasses provide a safe haven

Shaggy grasses are a safe haven

That’ll get cut back soon enough, too. For now, the hyssop heads are sporting jaunty top hats of snow, and the goldfinches think their perch-ability and seed snacks are pretty great.

Goldfinch Plein Air Diner

Goldfinch Plein Air Diner

We did manage to prune the fruit trees while the ground was still frozen. (Pat on back.) We’ll haul the prunings to WLSSD’s Yard Waste Compost Site when it opens in mid-April. Until then, the pile offers protection for the little seed-eating birds scooting through our yard and poking around the feeders as they migrate north. It’ll probably harbor a cottontail or two until they are discovered by Reddy Fox making his punctual 4:30 am trip through the front and backyard, passing coincidentally right next to the pile.

Apple trimmings offer temporary shelter

Apple trimmings shelter critters

We’ll head inside to hang the grow lights and set up the tray tables after the basement walls stop seeping and the last of the ice melt dries off the floor. I’ve still gotta buy fresh sterile soil mix for seed starting and must check the planting trays for cracks. Then we’ll start planting seed in cells.

Here are some upcoming local events to stem – or inflame – that gardener’s itch:
Grow Together
Great Gardening
Spring Garden Kick-off

By Susan Darley-Hill, Environmental Program Coordinator