Wild Things…
Early April
By Karen Vizzi
     It looks like it’s finally time to get outside and clean up the aftermath of one of the toughest winters ever! Most gardeners are stir crazy by now. But hold on a second…don’t dig in just yet! It’s always a good idea to practice a little restraint in the wild garden. 
     Consider that we still have a good four weeks of less than ideal weather to bear - specifically nighttime temperatures, which may continue to dip below freezing. Too much activity or fussing in the garden now will damage soil structure as well as disturb the winter hiding places of birds, insects or small mammals. Trudging around a soggy garden compacts the soil and makes it difficult for plant roots to develop. Hold off on intense digging chores until the soil has dried and temperatures have somewhat moderated. 
     Early April is a good time to do things like shrub and tree pruning, litter removal and fertilizing. Fertilizers applied now will have the best chance of being evenly distributed and carried all the way down to plant roots by April showers.
     Clean out sticks and trash from beds containing spring flowering bulbs, but be careful not to remove too much leaf litter. Leaf litter provides protection for delicate plant shoots and it decomposes quickly into organic matter…your soil’s best friend. At this time, prune only those shrubs and trees that bloom in late summer or fall, or those that are strictly foliage plants. Do not to prune any shrubs that are spring or early summer bloomers, such as azalea, rhododendron or lilac, because you will cut off the part of the plant that holds the mechanism for this year’s flower. Those shrubs should be pruned after they have finished flowering.
     There are some plants in the wild garden that are not quite hardy shrubs, but neither are they herbaceous plants that melt away in the frosts of autumn. Buddleia (butterfly bush) and lavender come to mind. All of last year’s woody growth on these two beauties can be chopped back hard (to within a few inches of the ground) towards the end of April. These plants flower on NEW wood, and the hard pruning will prompt a flourish of growth from the base of the plant.
     Another task on my April “To Do” list is to re-organize my bird feeding stations.
     I do feed birds in the summer, but much less so than winter. This week I will take down all the sturdy winter feeders and give them a good scrubbing with bleach before storing. In their place will go a few of the more decorative summer feeders. 
     Also, I like to get my hummingbird feeders up by April 15th. Although recent migration updates show they still have a way to go to reach Western New York, I want to be prepared in case weather patterns shift quickly.
     I will also spend some time with my garden map this week. Many plants have begun to push new growth, but not everything is up yet. I’ll check the map to remind myself of what is growing where, so I can make plans for all those seedlings sitting under lights in my basement. I really love that first warm day when I take my garden map outside and re-acquaint myself with old friends.
    Bird Brainers: The Whooping Crane is one of the most endangered birds in North America. Find out more about the work being done to help it recover at www.operationmigration.org
    Butterfly Bullets: When a caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly, it forms a chrysalis, not a cocoon. Cocoon is the term for the enclosure of a moth.
    Plant Pointers:  If some of your seedlings are getting too “leggy”, pinch out the growing tips or top set of leaves…this won’t hurt the plant, it will actually make it bushier.

 
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