Column: Gardening with Galligan

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | These bright yellow crocuses are blooming their happy little heads off in a planter on my balcony where they’re protected from the deer.

Happy spring, everybody!

You know the drill now. Feet down off the hearth, out of those chairs. Timeout is over.


You should have been doing two things in the past 10 days – cleaning up and starting to feed. Since cleaning up requires very little instruction, we probably ought to pause, just for a little, and review the issue of feeding. Beds should be fed once a month, starting late in

March and then at monthly intervals in April, May, June and July. August and September are out — the idea is to let our plants relax and go dormant. So in August and September we are not going to encourage them to grow.

For years, I didn’t feed. The instructions were always so complex, beginning with the calculation of how many ounces of fertilizer should be used in how many square feet, that I was already annoyed to start with. So it didn’t get done. Then too, there was the method involved. The books always told you to “scratch it in.” “Scratch it in?”

In what position exactly was one to “scratch it in?” No position had ever been mentioned. The other thing that was never mentioned: Once you “scratched it in” in the three-foot section you could reach, how were you supposed to get to the next three-foot section?

So let’s face facts here. What they were telling me was to get down on my hands and knees and crawl the entire length of the 100-foot bed, lugging a 20-pound bag of fertilizer and “scratching it in.” I didn’t think so. I did, however, devise an alternative method that I am happy to share with you. I call it “the Manhattan method.” What’s valued in Manhattan is anything fast and easy. Or easier.

So here are the steps to follow: First, buy fertilizer. You can keep going back to the store if you want to, but the alternative is to buy enough for the summer. Step two involves putting a bag of fertilizer and a garden saucer in your wheelbarrow and then pushing it to where you wish to begin and opening the bag. The final step is to fill the saucer repeatedly with fertilizer and scatter the fertilizer over a well-mulched bed.

The little grains of fertilizer will fall down through the mulch and scratch themselves in. The best time to do this is when rain is expected. However, there is always the alternate possibility of getting out the sprinkler and turning it on.

Feeding does make an enormous difference. I regret now all of those years in which I didn’t bother. Some plants really care a lot — forsythia is a good example. The more you feed forsythia, the more it will bloom its head off for you. I might also mention, on the subject of forsythia, that I brought branches in on March 5 this year and they were in full bloom by March 14.

It’s interesting that all spring blooming shrubs have an actual number. That number has a name but I no longer remember what it is. The number stands for the actual number of hours of cold, below 32 degrees, that the plant has experienced during that season. If you bring branches in before that number has been reached, they will simply leaf out green. If anyone knows the name of that number, please send me an email. I have tried unsuccessfully to find it on Google.

Welcome back, everyone! As soon as it gets a little warmer, I’ll get a little more cheerful.