Mother Nature is evil. If they made a movie she would be played by Rosamund Pike.
She presents me with the season’s first 65 degree sunny day on my column deadline day. But I have learned something. I learned that a quick 30 minutes of gardening in March can be exhausting after a winter spent in my easy chair.
In a perverse way, it works out. I can garden with the sun on my back for half an hour, then come in for a while with the excuse that I need to work on my column, not because brief bursts of exertion tucker me out.
There has always been March malaise – sort of an antidote to spring fever, as if we wanted one – but it gets a bit worse with every passing March.
Despite aches and pains, I like March. I actually like that some days struggle to get out of the 30s, and the next day might be 60. I like to wander the garden to see the first sprouts of perennials and bulbs. This year they slept in late, but a couple of warm days have coaxed them up.
I approach early spring gardening a couple square feet at a time. This is kneeling work with hand tools, close enough to smell the earth, not standing work with a spading fork, not quite yet (though potatoes are on the near horizon).
The first job is to clear away the dead tops of last year’s perennials. Some people do this in fall. I wonder what those people are doing on this first warm sunny day.
I rake the winter detritus away with a small hand rake. Then I sprinkle some common garden fertilizer around the plant and scratch it in. Perennials call this breakfast, the most important meal of the season.
With that done, the garden is momentarily almost vacant, empty ground, exposed soil or mulch briefly visible.
Also potentially visible are small hand tools lost for months, even years. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. The art of finding is, but it is easier now with so much open space than it is in high season when you set them down and they creep away and hide beneath full grown foliage.
Crocus, daffodils, even tulips, are waking, stirring, stretching, and peeking above the soil.
They want breakfast, too. Common garden fertilizer is better for them than specialized (and more expensive) bulb fertilizer or bone meal. In grandma’s day, bone meal wasn’t sterilized and had bits of other stuff which contained nitrogen. They need the nitrogen that the cheap stuff will give them. And it is simpler to scratch it in when they are still just showing above the soil.
The garden bed is probably infested with low spreading weeds that obdurately grow in winter. Now is the time to get rid of them.
Some gardeners even consider this enjoyable. But you can’t, or you shouldn’t just rip the tops off them.
Most of these spreading weeds grow from a central root, either a tap root or a fiberous root. You should gather the spreading part to get to the point they are growing from and pull that. It is easier than it sounds. And more satisfying.
If you don’t plan to plant seeds in the ground you have just cleared, it is a good idea to scatter some Preen, or you will just be doing it all again in a couple of weeks.
And stand back and look at that beautiful bare ground. Enjoy it while you can. Because it is still March. It will probably snow next week.