This is a great time to plant bulbs, at least here in Ottawa, for a wonderful harbinger of spring. As long as the ground is not yet frozen, bulbs can be planted.
How to Deter Squirrels from Digging up Your Bulbs
I tend to wait until mid-November so the squirrels don’t raid my bulbs. As well as waiting until as late as possible to plant your bulbs, there are a few other ways to guarantee spring-blooming:
use bloodmeal: sprinkle a handful in the hole, over the bulbs. Be sure to wear gloves when using bloodmeal. Bonemeal is a fertilizer that will help them grow, but will not deter rodents.
cut squares of chicken wire and place a square in each hole. I plant my bulbs in groups of five, so a one foot square piece of wire is sufficient. It can be purchased in a role at most grocery, DIY stores.
banana peels over the bulbsin the hole also works. I have done this in the past with success, crisscrossing the strips of peel over the bulbs like spokes on a wheel.
plant alliums, members of the onion family, or daffodils as squirrels don’t like either of these.
I generally order my bulbs from Brecks, this year was no exception. Their prices are reasonable (especially if you buy in bulk as I do) and the variety of bulbs is amazing. I love looking through their catalogs picking and choosing colours, bloom time, height etc. These are the tulip and allium bulbs I chose this year:
Spring is my favourite season. I love the fact that the plants in gardens, roadsides and parks start strutting their stuff, with changes every day. My own gardens don’t disappoint me every spring, in fact I am known to just wander/putter around enjoying the new growth.
If you too love spring blossoms, here are a few plants that bloom in spring for your yard and gardens…
My spring starts off with the star magnolia in my front yard. From afar, the blossoms look like pom poms, brightening up my yard even before the leaves emerge. Up close they are even more spectacular:
Another magnolia blooms a bit later in my backyard. This beauty is the Ann variety, with blossoms that change in shape as they progress…
After my white star magnolia blooms and drops its flowers, forsythia bushes brighten the neighbourhood with their striking yellow blossoms. My neighbour’s is especially pleasing to me as I enjoy this view from my front windows:
I have a forsythia in my backyard too, but it is still small and not as effectively placed as the beauty above.
Next to bloom in my gardens are my plum trees, usually. This year their blossoms were barely therethanks to the birds. This is what they are supposed to look like:
Plum trees are very fragrant when blooming too, another sign of spring. Unfortunately my husband suffers from seasonal allergies, so he does not find them as appealing as I do.
Apple and Crab Apple Trees
Next up to bloom are my McIntosh apple trees. This year they are particularly gorgeous…
…perhaps because the plum trees were not. The apple trees are loaded with bees too; I’m doing my part to keep them thriving!
Around the same time as the apple trees in my backyard, the crab apple tree in my front yard and in yards all across this city are in full bloom, ranging from the palest of pink, to light pink to my own darker almost-wine-coloured version. Whatever the variety, they are all beautifully spring-like.
Lilac Trees and Bushes
While most lilac trees and bushes are in bloom by now, with their distinct and fragrant blossoms, mine does not bloom until early June. After the plum and apples trees have shown off. These lilacs are still spring bloomers by calendar standards, but not quite a harbinger of spring in my yard.
Shrub roses (usually) bloom earlier and for longer than rose bushes, but of course there are exceptions. My favourite shrub rose, with pale yellow five-lobed petals and lemony yellow centers is just starting to bloom now while my crab apple tree is still going strong.
A few other varieties of pink shrub roses throughout my gardens will wait a few weeks before they decide to bloom.
Roses of the climbing or bushes type wait for the hotter days (and nights) of summer to perform.
Spring bulbs, are planted in the fall to provide early spring colour in your gardens. Early tulips and daffodils are currently blooming, with allium still working on their strappy leaves and tall stems. The alliums will be blooming soon too, with the later variety of tulips. With summer still a month away, these later tulips and allium are still considered spring blooming bulbs.
Another spring blooming shrub is the rhododendron, fast becoming one of my favourite for all of my gardens including my own. They too range in colour, including white, pale pink, hot pink, red and a purply pink.
I have a story that I tell anyone who will listen of how I was introduced to rhododendrons. Currently I choose them for most part sun gardens, especially eastern and northeastern facing ones, their preferred exposure. I have two in my own backyard too, ready to burst out in blossoms any time now…
Other Spring Blooming Perennials
A few perennials bloom in spring too. A few examples in my gardens are garden sage with pale purple flowers and Jack Frost brunnera which sports green and white heart-shaped leaves and tiny blue flowers:
There are also several groundcovers that bloom in spring. In my gardens that includes sweet woodruff with delicate leaves and tiny white flowers, as well as lamium with varigated leaves and pearl pink blossoms:
These ferns don’t flower as such, but their fronds are fascinating to watch unfurl. Apparently fiddleheads are delicious to cook and eat, although I have not tried them. This bed is full of ferns, turning into a lush, green focal point in summer:
There are lots of plants to choose from for spring colour in your gardens. Plant bulbs in the fall or perennials and shrubs anytime the ground is warm enough to dig in.
The plum trees in my back yard are usually so full of blossoms this time of year that you can see and smell them from across the street. The scent is heavenly, usually. Sadly, this year there are barely any blossoms.
2020 (left) and 2021 (right) blossoms
Birds Devouring the Flower Buds
About a month ago, a large flock of strange (to us, we had never seen this variety before) birds took over our backyard, devouring the emerging buds on the plum trees. There were at least fifty birds in these two trees at once, all weekend, with no social distancing evident!
I assumed they were migrating, returning from the south, and hoped they didn’t destroy the annual spectacle of fragrant blossoms.
A bit of research taught me that these newcomers were cedar waxwings, as suspected on their way north, stopping in for a nutrition break. Apparently, when their usual meal of seeds and nuts is unavailable, they are known to snack on the flower buds of fruit trees. Cute little guys, but boys do they do some damage.
Mystery solved, but I sure hope this does not become an annual event! The gorgeous blossoms on these plums trees is a harbinger of spring in my gardens.
I may have to resort to twinkling lights and windchimes to deter the marauders in the future.
Cottage season is coming, fast. With increased COVID numbers and resulting restrictions, it cannot come too soon. Isolating at the lake is something we were grateful for last summer, although spending time there is always a relaxing, “unplugged” experience, regardless of what is happening around the world.
Ice on the Lake
A few weeks ago we visited Palmerston Lake to check on our cottage. We took our four year old uber-adventurous grandson with us to show him what the place looks like in winter. He was thrilled to walk on the ice and climb on the frozen pile of leaves. He was disappointed however, that the snakes and frogs were still sleeping…
This Easter weekend, less than three weeks later, we visited again to begin the annual spring cleanup. The grandson stayed home to enjoy Easter festivities, but I couldn’t help reflecting on how much he would love to see the ice breaking up.
It always amazes me how quickly the ice leaves the lake every spring. The property is now snow-free even though we had to park on the road and wade through the snow last visit. By next week the ice will be totally gone!
Spring Cottage Chores
Even though we rake up most leaves in the fall at the end of each season, there are always some that are still clinging to the trees as we are closing up. That means there are still lots to rake up in the spring too.
That’s the downside of a heavily treed lot. The advantage of course, is the natural beauty and shade these trees provide in the summer months.
We use plastic bags saved from new mattresses to collect and transport the leaves to the huge leaf pile. These bags make the chore much easier, and fold up for storage between uses. Over the season the leaves break down, providing soil amendment for garden areas.
Unfortunately, a cold north wind was blowing off the lake during this visit, much to the annoyance of my arthritic hips. I paid for that in pain on return to the city. Once the cold gets in my bones, the ache is hard to dispel.
Gypsy Moth Damage
Last year I told you about the infestation of gypsy moths at the lake. Apparently it was a record year for them in Eastern Ontario, affecting not only deciduous trees but evergreens too.
We have been praying that our trees will survive this onslaught. While the deciduous trees don’t appear to suffer long term, (their leaves return each year) the growth of the evergreens (spruce and pines) is much slower. The needles take much longer to regrow, if they do at all.
I hesitate to cut the damaged tops off these pines and spruce as that would alter the natural shape of the trees, making them bushier and rounder at the bottom. Instead we will wait to see how much regrowth they put out this season.
COVID Affecting Cottage and Campsite Rentals
Last summer Canadians stayed close to home, visiting local cottages and campgrounds more than ever before. We were no exception. With the heat wave we experienced it was a no brainer to isolate at our family cottage. While visitors outside our immediate family were not invited, we managed to get our sons’ families to join us, albeit separately.
This season promises to be even busier for cottage and campsite rentals as we head into a (possible) second summer of isolation restrictions. I’ve heard that campsites are booking up fastas families know to expect availability shortages this summer. If you haven’t already, you might want to get on it soon!
As spring weather warms us up, we relish the fact that cottage season is coming!
Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, sunny days here (Ottawa, zone 4/5) are making me itch to get into my gardens.
It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.
The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fallfor the past few years, so I am one step ahead.
You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.
Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.
Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across onea few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds, when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved onto another area of the garden.
What can You Do This Early?
You can prune trees now, in fact this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Just do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms. And, if you have to trample all over your soggy lawn to get to the trees to prune them, perhaps you better wait for a few weeks.
Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy and create a workout for your arms.
If cut branches are diseased, wipe lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcolol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.
Cut Back Ornamental Grasses
You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. This will ensure the new green shoots (when they appear) wont have to compete with the dead brown ones.
Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.
Plan and Dream
This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!
Get Ahead of Crabgrass
If crabgrass is making an appearance in your lawn, treat it quick! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.
This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.
Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.
If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Rinse them out and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.
If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.
Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.
Change up Your Outdoor Decor
Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!
In Ottawa (predominantly zone 4) this is a perfect time to prune dormant shrubs and trees. The timing is even more perfect if you are out of sorts self isolating or practicing social distancing as currently recommended by our government officials.
The trick is knowing what should and should not be pruned or cut back this early. Here is a list of plants you can cut back NOW…
trees (it is much easier to see branches that need to be cut back before the leaves sprout). Oak, ash, birch, maple, linden, walnut and fruit trees are on this list. Beware, some of these trees will release sap when cut this time of year.
shrubs that do NOT flower in spring. Leave the trimming of lilacs, forsythia, etc until right AFTER they bloom. The shrubs you can prune now include hydrangeas, potentilla, spirea, (with the exception of bridal wreath variety) smoke tree, butterfly bush, ninebarks, false spirea, and weigela to name a few.
shrubs grown for their foliage only (burning bush, willows, boxwood, euonymus, cedars, dogwoods, barberry, junipers, yews, etc)
roses, except for the climbing variety. Cut back to 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud/leaf node, slanting the cut in a 45 degree angle, away from the bud/leaf node. (see picture below)
vines, (except those that flower early, like clematis) especially vigorous growers, can be cut back to 5 feet from the ground. My golden hops falls into this category. Left unpruned, it will take over my gardens, in one season.
ornamental grasses (cut back to 4 inches from ground)
stalky perennials (these should snap off easily at ground level) like coneflowers, daisies,
perennials that have died back to the ground, leaving mushy mounds, can be tidied up now. Hostas are an example. I cut my hostas back in the fall because I can’t handle the mushiness in the spring.
Many trees and shrubs do not need to be pruned, unless their growth is out of control or they have diseased, dead or crossing branches. All such branches should be removed any time of the year, but while dormant it is easier to visualize the crossing or damaged branches. Cut broken branches back to the closest healthy branch. Cut diseased branches back to the ground. Cut crossing branches back to where they no longer cross/touch another branch. You may have to choose which of the crossing branches is the best one to keep.
Other garden chores to do early
There are several other garden chores you can get done early, as soon as spring fever hits…
edging can be done as soon as the ground is thawed enough to get the edger in. The same applies to making your garden larger or changing its shape.
perennials can be dug up, divided and/or moved as soon as the ground thaws too.
take cuttings from any shrubs you have pruned. Dip the end into rooting hormone and put the cutting into a pot of soil. I make hundreds of new plants this way each year. They take a few years to reach maturity, but it does work.
clean out and disinfect any pots you emptied in the fall that you plan to reuse this season.
start annuals or perennial seeds indoors. My granddaughter loves to plant them and watch them grow.
clean out and replace bird houses.
rake your lawn, hard, but wait until it is no longer soft and soggy.
treat your lawn with weed & feed, preemergent crabgrass treatment, or grass seed. You cannot treat for weeds and spread seed at the same time. If you treat for weeds now, wait six weeks before adding seed. Fescue is best in our area, grubs don’t like the roots.
powerwash verandas, decks, fences, patios, patio furniture and any other surfaces that get dirty/moldy over the winter.
leave the debris in the gardens though, as bees and other beneficial critters are still hiding there.
As new Growth Appears
Some plants, like most varieties of clematis vines, should only be cut back (to 4 inches) when new growth appears. This happens sometime after the dormant stage and before the last frost date.
After the Last Frost
Some garden chores must wait until the chance of frost is gone. I rely on the blooming of my forsythia to tell me when it’s time. Mother Nature is amazing and the forsythias haven’t steered me wrong yet. Here is a list of garden chores that should wait…
pruning climbing roses. Cut lateral (side shoots emerging from main stem) shoots back to two buds from the main stem. As above, angle your cuts. As the lateral shoots grow, tuck them into their trellis (or whatever they are growing against) horizontally. They produce more blooms that way.
trim old growth from late bloomers like hibiscus only when new growth appears. Every year I worry mine did not make it through the winter, then bang, they show up, just as I’m about to give up on them and pull them out. My advice? If you think yours has croaked, wait a week.
So, if spring fever has hit you (as it has me) get out into your yard and garden to get a start on things. Take advantage of the social distancing restrictions to give your gardens some extra TLC! Later in the season, when we are able to entertain friend and family again, you will be happy you spent the time now.
Yesterday (Monday) the temperature rose into the double digits here in Ottawa. That’s incredible (although not unheard of) for early March. Although, as forecast, this spring-like weather is already less exciting today…
While the sunshine and warm temperature teased us of things to come, I changed up the décor in my urns flanking my garage and the milk can (from my grandparents’ farm) on my front porch. The evergreen boughs that looked so nice late last fall, have looked a little sad lately, not the lush green their name implies…
I also removed the Christmas/winter decorations (shiny bulbs, pinecones and a very cute owl), but saved them in my seasonal stash for next winter, leaving the (still attractive) red dogwood twigs in place. I found a few (artificial) sprigs of forsythia in said stash and tucked them into the dogwood twigs, then promptly texted my neighbour to brag that my forsythia is blooming before hers…
At my local grocery store I was delighted to discover bunches of pussy willows in the floral department. I can never avoid perusing any floral department, in any store, especially in spring. The pussy willows were calling my name, or maybe my spring fever was running rampant. Whatever, they created an awesome addition to my spring displays at home…
The rain in the forecast should help melt the still-existent snowbanks away. Every (rain) cloud has its silver lining I say. With colder weather (back) in the forecast later this week, I may have to bring some of these floral harbingers of spring indoors for some temporary respite.
I’m sure later this week I will be reminiscing the too fleeting sneak peak at spring.