Homeyer: Impatient For Spring

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(HOST) As the snow melts and the ground thaws, gardener and commentator Henry Homeyer is impatient for spring.

(HOMEYER) I don’t know about you, but mud season is my least favorite time of the year. Day after day of gray, raw weather gets me down, and March is a month that usually has plenty of gray days. I suppose that’s why I love maple sugaring:  There’s nothing like spending a few hours with friends around a boiling pan talking about politics or baseball or dogs.

But I’m a gardening guy, and what I really love to do is work outside in my gardens. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to do much outside – even on a warm, sunny day. The snow has melted on some of my flower beds, and I’d love to start cleaning them up, but I know better.

Right now, there is still frost in the ground at my house, even though the top few inches of soil have thawed. I try not to walk on the lawn or in the garden beds until the soil has completely thawed – and drained. Walking on wet soil compacts it, driving out air spaces needed by roots, and ruining soil structure. Roots grow best in fluffy, well aerated soils, so I try to control my urge to work in the garden this early.

Later this spring I’ll clean up the flower beds by raking off dead leaves, twigs and the remains of last summer’s flowers. If I’m working when the soil is still a bit wet, I’ll lay down a couple of 6-inch wide boards, each about 5-feet long, and walk on them. That distributes my weight more evenly – so I’ll do less damage.

One outdoor task I’ll do now is sticking labels in the ground to remind me, next fall, where I need to plant more bulbs. This is the time to observe where the snow melts first, and where there are no bulbs poking up their little green noses.  

I plant dozens of bulbs each fall, and I’m rewarded each spring with hundreds of blossoms – maybe thousands – starting now with those dainty white snowdrops. The season progresses though the whole list of bulbs: deep purple scilla that seem to frown as their blossoms look down at the ground from their short stems; their  cheerful upward-looking cousins called Glory of the Snow that are blue with little white eyes that seem to stare right at me. Then come crocus in a range of colors, from yellow and white to shades of blue and purple; little ones, and big ones ready to entertain the early bumble bees that crawl right inside.  And of course before long there will be the daffodils – classic big-trumpeted, King Alfreds, clumps of little yellow ‘tete-a-tetes’, and later those fragrant pheasant-eye daffodils with short, bright trumpets. And assuming my dogs discourage the deer, there will eventually be tulips in all colors and shapes.

I can’t wait for spring to arrive – but I guess I’ll have to. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go pick some snowdrops.

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