HANDS-ON GARDENER: Think Long and Hard Before You Plant That Tree

by Miriam HansenIMG_1732

Ah, the glories of mud season. As temperatures roller coaster up and down, the snow drops are blooming, onions, leeks, shallots, celery and snapdragons are growing under lights in the basement. A tray of spinach, arugula and lettuce is seeded and will soon be ready to transplant into the greenhouse. It is almost time to start greenhouse bound tomatoes, eggplant and peppers along with zinnias, cleome, nemesia and columbines to set out in the garden at the end of May.

Regardless of what you’re planting, always check optimal temperature and light requirements for germination. Provide bottom heat for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Celery and lettuce seeds require light so barely cover the seed and set these containers where daylight can reach them. Once the first seeds sprout, remind yourself to be patient. There are always a few that come shooting up and get leggy. But it can take weeks for the rest of the seeds to catch up. This happens every year, with everything from snapdragons to celery. Each seed has its own timetable.

If you like to grow onions from seed, use scissors to trim off the seed bearing tip as soon as they come up. Trimming helps the seedlings stay upright and promotes stocky roots and stems. Keep the seedlings snipped to 4 or 5 inches until they’re ready to go in the ground.

This year we’re going to plant our onion crop in some garden mats from a local Central Vermont company, Garden Mats in Worcester, Vermont. Their Garden Mats are constructed of polypropylene, a material that blocks sun but is permeable to air and water. They are strong enough to walk on and reportedly will last up to 10 years. Precut holes of varying sizes are cauterized to prevent fraying. You choose your mat according to the crop. A friend reports, “I’ve cut down my weeding from about 20 hours a week to five hours a season!” Figuring her time at a low $10 an hour, she says, “I’ve paid myself back for the cost of the mats after about a month.”

I still prefer to garden directly in soil and lay mulch between the rows, but after last year’s crabgrass infestation and a planned trip to Newfoundland for the month of June, $80 for about 300 weed-free and work-free onions and shallots amortized over 10 years seems like a good investment. Check out the website https://gardenmats.com.

Living in a deer yard, fencing of various kinds has been a necessity to cope with their marauding. This fall we started spraying Liquid Fence — a brand of deer repellent — on rhododendrons, daphnes, heathers and azaleas. There’s not much our deer don’t find tasty but once we spray, the plants are protected for about a month. Once tulips break ground, we’ll spray until they’re done blooming. Deer don’t bother daffodils and grape hyacinths so save your deer repellent for the luscious morsels.

It’s a good time to prune woody shrubs and trim spent leaves from hellebores and bergenia. It is also time to pull the layer of leaves off the Butterfly Bush we protected last fall. We’ll see if it makes it through. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little winter kill I’m seeing despite a winter with sparse snow cover and mighty temperature swings. Of course it is early days.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to prune your fruit trees, before their sap begins to flow and the buds start to swell. As soon as the ground has thawed it is also the time to move trees and other woody plants. We’ve got a fairly large crab apple that has outgrown the spot we planted it in. We need to move it now before it breaks dormancy.

As the title of this column implies, when you plant a tree, pay attention to its height and girth at maturity. Then think once, twice and three times before you plant it. As the photo suggests, moving three-year-old crab trees is a BIG job requiring muscle, persistence and clever use of leverage. Kudos to my husband David who possesses all three.

After five years of writing the “Hands-On Gardener,” I want to thank Nat and The Bridge for being so supportive and hope you will support them in their efforts to keep a free community paper alive.

I’d particularly like to thank all of you for being such avid, enthusiastic readers. It has been great fun sharing gardening stories with you. If you want to refer to columns past, Google “Hands-On-Gardener” and three years of my gardening columns will pop up. May you always have something growing in your yard to come home to.

Happy Gardening!

Miriam Hansen is a writer, gardener and forest ecology enthusiast. She and her husband live in East Montpelier where they produce most of their own vegetables, berries and meat.