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Hi, guys — happy spring, and welcome back!
If you’re anything like me, you’re jumping out of your skin, waiting to get your hands dirty. But as exciting as the season is for gardeners, it’s also time to exercise restraint.
Itching to clean up the garden? Hold off on that.
Want to mulch your beds? Not so fast.
Thinking about fertilizing the lawn? Timing is important, and doing so too early will do more harm than good.
Here are the hows, whys and — most importantly — the whens of spring cleanups, plus the one plant-centric chore you can do right away, no matter where you live.
You might remember that my decades-old perennial beds were nearly completely overtaken by invasive Liriope, so I hired a landscaper to remove it last fall. He spent nearly four hours digging it all up with a pickaxe, and I lost many of my other perennials to collateral damage, which I expected.
So as I look out at my barren beds, I know this year they won’t fill in on their own as the weather warms. But I’m looking forward to a new start, and designing, shopping and replanting.
That’s an important silver lining for me because I could really use some garden therapy right about now. As you know, I’ve been out of commission for the past few months (thank you so much to the hundreds of you who reached out to make sure I was ok — I read every one of your emails, comments and social media messages, and truly appreciated your concern more than you could know). After a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer, my husband, John, passed away in December.
It’s been a rough three years, to say the least, with surgeries, infections, chemo, radiation, and a clinical trial compounded by fear, anxiety, isolation and extra-strict Covid precautions. But the garden — and writing this newsletter — provided pockets of solace, if only in spurts.
I’ll share photos of my progress as the planting and growing get underway. Remember to send yours along, too — we all want to see them! And let us know in the comments about the spring gardening projects you’re working on.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: Do you know what is on this oak tree leaf? —Christine Kokesh Claus, Commack, NY
DEAR CHRISTINE: That’s wooly oak gall. The fuzzy tan masses on your oak leaf are a sure sign the tree is infested with cynipid wasps.
The insects lay their eggs inside the leaf’s tissue, and as a natural defense — much like an oyster builds a pearl around an irritant — the tree responds by surrounding the egg with a gall.
The wasp larvae live within the gall throughout summer, feeding on the gall itself. And later in the season, it emerges to repeat the cycle. If you’re curious, cut one open and check it out.
The good news is leaf galls don't cause much, if any, harm to the tree, unlike other types of galls you might find on twigs or branches.
And the tiny wasps don't sting, so there's no reason to fear them. In fact, they serve as a food source for birds and other wildlife, so just leave them be.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Divide crowded or overgrown fall-blooming perennials (but don’t divide spring bloomers until fall).
👏 Sunday shoutout
Isa Hansel sent in this lovely photo of Gazanias (African daisies), grown last summer. They are “my love, with their color and markings, and they need poor soil and lots of sun, which is just what my garden supplies.”
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next!
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
This week, I wrote about the hows, whys and —most importantly — the whens of spring cleanup.
Before that, I wrote about managing Callery pear trees, my first visit to The Philadelphia Flower Show, the importance of learning Botanical Latin plant names, my favorite new plant varieties for 2023, planting a moon garden, cut flowers and houseplants to avoid if you have pets, toxic plants to keep away from toddlers and a lot more.
You can read them and all my AP gardening columns here.
Did you do the homework assigned in last week’s newsletter? If you watched my companion planting video and caught up on the columns you missed, you’ll ace this quiz and be eligible to receive a free copy of “Container Food Gardening: All the know-how you need to grow veggies, fruits, herbs and other edible plants in pots,” by Pam Farley.
(Psst — If you played hooky, that’s ok! Catch up on your reading at the links in the AP section, above, and watch the video here.)
I really like Farley’s book because it not only provides planting and care advice but goes a step further to recommend practical concerns like the best varieties to grow in containers, the best types of potting soil to use (and instructions for making your own) and types of containers to avoid. You’ll also get charts informing on companion plants, seed-starting dates and using soil amendments and fertilizers.
There’s also a chapter on planting recipes, which includes a dozen illustrated plans to help you create lovely themed containers, such as “spring stir-fry,” “salad greens,” “smoothie greens,” “salsa,” “cocktail or mocktail” and more.
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I spend hours every week writing The Weekly Dirt, answering your questions and sharing advice to help you achieve the garden of your dreams. If you enjoy reading it and would like it to continue, please consider supporting my work by buying me a virtual coffee!
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📧 How’m I doing?
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.
I’m so sorry for your loss, May you stay busy and find comfort in your gardening and your writing
You do a wonderful job. May God bless you with good health and may your husband Rest In Peace.
So very sorry to hear of your loss. You have my deepest sympathy.