Wild ThingsÖ
Late April
By Karen Vizzi
    One of the events I look forward to most in spring is the day when the deliveryman rings my doorbell with a big box marked ďLive Plants.Ē The box contains the perennials and shrubs I ordered from catalogs back in January. Although I selected these plants, itís been a while since Iíve given them much thought, so it always a nice surprise.
     This event happens every year in late April and makes me happy because I know itís time to begin planting Ö at least the hardiest plants! I order new perennials from catalogs for several reasons. First, the plants are shipped directly from the grower at the time when conditions are right for planting. This is often weeks before you would see similar plants in garden centers, so getting them early gives me a jump on the flowering season. Second, I am usually searching for uncommon plant material that has some type of wildlife or habitat value, and I find a much better selection available through catalogs. This is not a negative comment on garden centers, which must tailor inventory to the majority. Most of their customers are looking for more common garden plants Öthose with lots of visual appeal. Unfortunately, many plants that are most visually appealing to humans are not quite as appealing to wildlife.
     In addition to adding new plants, itís also a good time to check existing plants that may need transplanting or dividing. As long as you can see some top growth and the soil is workable, itís okay to do this now. Some perennials like rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) tend to spread over time but die out in the center, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the plant. I dig up the whole plant, cut it into sections (divide it) and piece it back together. You could also use some of the divisions to increase your stock in a different part of the garden. However, if youíre gardening for butterflies, remember that they prefer larger stands of one plant type to little clumps spread out all over the place.
     Whether you are adding to your collection or just moving things around, the planting technique is the same. As an old gardening hero of mine used to say, ďa 50 cent plant needs a five dollar hole.Ē That means you need to dig the new hole large enough to allow the plant to spread and settle itís roots quickly. Backfill the hole with loose, rich soil and keep the plant well watered for at least the first week.
      In addition, the same rule applies to perennials as in our discussion on transplanting houseplants. Never change the depth of the crown (soil line) of a plant. Doing so can cause a problem for some plants by throwing off the whole flowering cycle.
     Now would also be a good time to fertilize established perennials, if required. However, itís a good idea to read up on the cultural requirements of your wild garden plants, because many of them do not care to be fertilized at all. Take herbs for example. Most herbs prefer a lean soil, but if you are growing them for culinary purposes, then there are a few that would benefit from an occasional light feeding.
     However, if growing them as the larval food for some butterfly, or for the seed as a treat for birds, then you would most likely not want to feed them.
     To prune or not to prune? To fertilize or not to fertilize? Those are the questions. When in doubt, just try to think like Mother Nature. What would she do? If your answer is ďnothingĒ, then I think youíre on to something! Less is always better in the wild garden.
    Bird Brainers: Migration maps show that hummingbirds have already been spotted in Upstate New York, so hurry and get those feeders up!
    Butterfly Bullets: My first butter sighting of the year! A Mourning Cloak spotted skimming a snow bank on April 11th. Too bad I didnít have my camera. What a picture!
    Plant Pointers: Donít cut back that fading bulb foliage, no matter how bad it looks!! Those ratty leaves are actually soaking up the energy for next yearís flower. Wait until the foliage has completely yellowed or dried to cut it off. Be patient, because it may take several weeks.

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