gardenphyllisophyBy Phyllis Galowitz

Patches of snowdrifts still remain from last week’s eight inch snowfall and Bryants Brook is roiling and almost overflowing with the snow melting off the hills behind it, the pouring rain of the last two days and the warmer temperatures. It’s muddy. Water is spilling over retaining walls and fallen tree trunks, filling ditches on the roadsides. On the sunny side of the road, you can almost see the grass getting greener, the willows turning gold and the bright green ferns springing from the brown earth. Spring is definitely in the air and on the ground. Even with the mud, I couldn’t help exploring my yard, looking for signs of Spring. (Cara, daughter number four, just called me from New York to tell me that forsythia is blooming there. How exciting!)

We, in Palmer Hollow, are about a month behind, but it’s encouraging to know that by the time you’re reading this, we will be in the midst of Spring, in all its glory! That means getting up off that comfortable chair and out into the garden to do those chores left over from the fall. Remove dead branches. Thin out the tree canopy to allow air and sunlight to reach the garden, but wait to prune maples and birches until after they leaf out and Spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom. Check your mower for needed repairs and be sure that garden tools and pots are clean to prevent spreading diseases. Eliminate weeds. Cover beds with layers of newspaper covered with mulch to save labor in weeding. Prune older, overgrown blueberry bushes to maintain proper shape and improve fruit production by removing diseased, dead or broken branches, to open up the plant to sunlight and air. On Thursday, April 11th. 9:30-4, there will be a program at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Resource Center, in Hamden, on highbush blueberry production, talking about diseases and insects. The $20 charge includes lunch. You must call (607-865-6531) to make a reservation if you are planning to go.

On a warm day, when the wind is calm, move houseplants outside and water with a forceful spray to remove mealybugs and other pests. Check under leaves for brown scales. Spray with horticultural oil, neem or insecticidal soap (which can be made by combining a tablespoon of liquid detergent to a quart of warm water, in a spray bottle). Move plants back inside. If you want to keep them outside, place them in a protected area in the shade. Bring them in at night. Let them have a little more sun each day. Slow-release or organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion, which are low in nitrogen, are the best choices for indoor plants. Excess nitrogen not only produces tender, succulent growth that is very susceptible to insect damage, but also triggers the reproductive cycles of insects. Other useful controls, indoors as well as outdoors, include using clean soil, tools, pots, promptly removing plant debris and pruning and pinching back to promote healthy growth.

Prepare beds for planting and cover with black plastic to warm the soil and get a couple of weeks’ head start. You can start growing cabbage, broccoli and slow-growing flowers such as pansies, begonias and, later in the month, verbena, petunias, geraniums and impatiens. Plant transplants of tomatoes and peppers, if you can give them protection such as row covers or a cold-frame. Unless you have a greenhouse, I don’t recommend planting tomatoes or peppers or eggplant from seed in our zone. There just isn’t enough time for them to mature before the frost of late August nights come. Even starting with transplants, I’ve only been able to grow those plants with short growing times, like Early Girl or Patio tomatoes. Maybe it’s because I just don’t have enough sun. You may have better luck.

Happy gardening!  ~