Around the Island

Gardening with Galligan: A garden checkup

I’ve been quite remiss this season, indulging in reminiscences as well as plant histories, instead of doing what I think I’m supposed to be doing, which is to coax, harry, and generally assail you all into completing the chores you should have completed. But that stops right now. We need both to look ahead and behind and check ourselves. Have we been doing what we should have been doing? Are we where we should be, given the time of year? Let’s check.

Have you fed regularly? The first feeding of the year should have been at the end of March. Yes, March. You may not notice much at that point in the season, but the plants do, and will reward you if you join them. Did you buy a big bag of 5-10-5 and then scatter it by saucers-full? You did? Oh, excellent! And without being harried by me! I’m proud of you! And did you repeat this all-important step a month later in April and then at the same date in May? If yes, you’re on the way to an A-plus! Regular monthly feedings are perhaps the most important first step in the direction of a beautiful garden.

Another important first step is to replenish the mulch and it’s not now, given our very wet spring, too late to do this. It should be close to two inches deep or more. Check out Ruth Stout’s (Yes, Rex’s sister) book in the library if you have the time. She writes about doing this, I think she might have been the first gardener to do so, in a really humorous way. And it’s good to mix humor with a really annoying task. Yes, I know packaged mulch is expensive, but in the long run, worth every penny. Tempted as we all might be to accept free mulch from any number of sources, believe me when I tell you that you really don’t want to do this. You will simply double, maybe even triple, your workload. Free mulch is not sterilized as mulch must be! It’s full of weed seeds to say nothing of germs. Neither of which you want in your beds.

Although pruning in April is certainly the way to go, it’s not too late to check all your shrubs (especially) and other plants and cut back dead or useless growth. This will also give you a chance and hopefully the time to examine carefully each of the plants in your care. I was horrified to note that my pyracantha, on which I depend for all fall berries had, literally, in a huge six or seven foot tall bush, three! Count them, three! Little sprigs of blossoms, those which will eventually become berries. I thought I’d become berry-independent. Looks like I’m going back to berry-begging!

This was not my only loss this year. All my azaleas died, two of my favorite roses and there’s a big hole in our willow tree. I think I know why but look forward to hearing from other people. I think it was the total absence of snow cover this past winter. We may complain about it when we have it, but I think it’s probably essential to maintaining plant health. Without the protection it offers from both wind and cold, it’s too hard a job for a shrub to manage on its own. This idea only underscores thoughts about mulch. Maybe mine should have been deeper.

But all gardeners know, it’s an iffy hobby. Learn as you go, and profit from past mistakes. Hope they’re not too costly! And if you have extra berries in the fall, be in touch!