Spring is here! When we think of spring, our minds turn to our gardens, some with glee, others with groans. Glee can be feeling energized as your garden is already perfectly coiffed and just ready to grow. Groans come from those thinking about the leaves, dead flowers and weeds – you can feel overwhelmed by it all as the weed-wacker starts winking at you from the garage.
We, the Gentle Gardeners, are self-confessed gardening enthusiasts interested in helping those groaners turn their garden space into a personal outdoor room that brings joy and respite from busy lives.
Still struggling to make sense of your garden? Here are some tips to get you started.
The first big tip is timing.
Don’t start clearing last year’s growth until the ground has warmed up and is relatively dry. Our pollinators are still catching their 40 winks, so cleaning up before they have a chance to wake up and shake out their cobwebs will effectively kill off a whole generation of our great garden friends.
The second big tip is to decide what to keep and what to compost.
Think back to last year’s garden. What flowered and gave you joy? What limped along, got moldy leaves or was eaten down to the stem? There are many tried and tested trusty perennials that come back every year, can withstand dry spells, resist slug and snail infectations and just keep on flowering. For an easy garden, stick with them. Like some of your neighbours’ flowers? Offering to help divide them after flowering is an inexpensive way to build your own garden beds.
The third big tip is weed early, feed yearly, then add mulch.
Catch those weeds when they are little in May and June, before they take over your beds. If their stems are cut from their roots (shallow tilling), most weeds will just disappear. Dandelions are the exception to the rule – a long-pronged tool is needed to dig out the tap root. (Slater has a foot-long chisel and wonders about dynamite!) The other trick is to have kids over and pick the dandelion flowers as they chant, “Mommy! I’ve got some flowers for you!” Persistent weeds can be topped with wet cardboard – appliance boxes or bike boxes work well. Just remove staples and wrapping tape, cut into strips and lay on top of the weeds, then put shredded mulch on top.
Feeding your garden doesn’t require fancy potions. Manure and good qualiy top-soil mixed into your bed really gives your garden a boost for the year. If you have difficulty getting it to your garden, ask neighbours to share the delivery of a cubic yard or 10! A big pile will quickly disappear into your gardens and the whole block will benefit. Even while socially distancing, we can still help each other create our outdoor spaces for the season. You’ll find out who has the wheelbarrows on your street and, of course, all the kids will want to get out their buckets and spades to lend a hand!
Mulch can be many things, but it usually means cedar chips piled two to three inches deep around your plants, covering all the soil. Mulch keeps moisture in the ground, so you will need less watering. Hauling mulch by bike, wagon or car can be an onerous and expensive task, so contact a tree-cutting service – some will drop off cubic yards of shredded and chipped branches at your driveway.
The fourth big tip is when to cut back flowers and shrubs.
The rule of thumb is to cut back after flowering. Enjoy the unwieldly sight this spring, then take your secateurs (snips) and cut back to a new bud, stepping back often to ensure the shape is even. Some flowers will bloom again if you trim the dead flower off before it sets seed.
The fifth big tip is watering and relaxing.
Deep watering once a week, especially during really dry spells. Then most importantly, relax and enjoy your new space.
Tracey Deagle brings a host of gardening experience from B.C., PEI and the Ottawa region. Judith Slater is the former lead for the Glebe Garden Angels and the staff lead of TWIGS, Glebe Collegiate’s environment club and enjoys her own garden. Together they are the Gentle Gardeners offering gardening advice and services in the neighbourhood. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-600-1717 and 604-791-7621.