Best of
 Wild ThingsÖ
Sping Clean-up
By Karen Vizzi
    Spring is finally here and its time to venture outside to do some garden clean up. But donít be too gung ho! The weather in April can be deceiving and sometimes you can do more harm than good in the wild garden.
    It is important to remember that the air in spring warms up much faster than the soil. Stomping around on partially frozen or saturated ground can compact the soil underneath and make it very difficult for root development to occur. This can be most harmful to grass, so a good tip is to lay down some wood planks, old carpet scraps or large pieces of cardboard where your foot traffic is heaviest. Also try to avoid stepping in flowerbeds. Some perennials are just beginning to break through the soil and are extremely vulnerable to crushing. All thatís needed at this point is to lightly rake away debris that has accumulated. You can sprinkle some fertilizer in the beds, but avoid any intense cultivation of the soil for a few more weeks. Weeds can be pulled, but be careful! If they donít give with a light tugging, leave them alone for now. If you are too rough with a weed, you could be damaging nearby desirable plants. It will be easier and less damaging to weed in a few weeks when the soil has warmed completely.
    Many pruning chores can be done successfully now. In fact, it is best to do pruning on many shrubs, like roses and ornamentals, before the leaves break. Donít prune any shrubs that are spring bloomers, like azalea, rhododendron or lilac, or you will hack away the flowers for this year. Others, such as buddleia (butterfly bush) and lavender, which bloom on new growth, can be cut right down to within inches of the ground. Always remove branches of any shrub that show signs of winter- kill. If not removed, these dead or damaged branches are an invitation for insects and disease. Many plants take a while to wake up. The best way to tell if a plant or shrub is dead or just asleep is to scratch a tiny section of one of the lower branches with your thumbnail. If you see live green tissue underneath, the plant is sleeping. If it is black or corky in appearance, it is most likely dead.
    While you are cleaning up the wild garden, the most important thing to avoid is disturbing any little habitat where a critter has passed the winter. Many butterflies pass the winter in the pupil stage; so donít disturb any chrysalides that may be buried under leaf litter. One species, the Mourning Cloak (pictured), passes the winter in the adult stage and can be seen flying very early in the season. Birds and rabbits rely on brush piles to shelter them from icy winds and predators, so leave those alone for now! Inclement weather is not over by any means and in our zeal to clean up, we may just be harming the very critters we are looking to attract to the wild garden.

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