Mrs. Greenthumbs says:

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The warmer weather and rain have brought on that burst of spring green. We’re starting to work in the yard and think about outside planting. I made a point to buy cardboard egg cartons when I stocked up on eggs before Easter. I want to try something new for me and start seeds in the egg cartons. With planting and gardening, I can use all the advice and help I can get.

I read an article recently by Cassandra Danz who is also known as Mrs. Greenthumbs, and I found several of her gardening points worth noting.

“Gardening is not brain surgery,” says Mrs. Greenthumbs. Don’t be afraid you’ll make a mistake. Common perennials love to be divided so they can reproduce. Digging them up on a cloudy day will help keep them from drying out as quickly. Pull or cut the plants into two or more pieces, making sure each leafy part has some roots and replant in good soil and water.

Watching my grandfather baby his hybrid tea roses with hours of care (and stinky fish emulsion) and seeing floribundas that have spread rampantly out of hand has made me afraid to grow roses on my own. Danz points out that there are hundreds of specimens of shrub roses that thrive with no more care than a forsythia. She names Alba, Damask, Rosa Mundi, and Rugosa as good choices for our cooler area of the country. With six hours of sun and good soil, they will take care of themselves.

Danz reminds us that “Trees grow, so don’t plant them too close to your house.” This advice stings as I think of the maple in front of my parent’s house where I grew up. That tree has been a nagging bit of agony to my dad for decades. He has spent hours of back wrenching pruning to keep the tree in check so it doesn’t touch the house. Each pruning has caused further branching, of course. Now the tree is so top heavy, clustered with thick regrowth, that it is anything but graceful or attractive, but at least new leaves each spring help to disguise the heavy pruning of the past. This tree is a reminder of much worry and effort spent that need not have been. So says Mrs. Greenthumbs, “As a rule, don’t plant forest trees closer than 35 feet from your house.” That’s what small trees and shrubs are for.

Speaking of shade trees, how much sun does your garden get? If the sun is on it less than four hours a day, it’s a shady garden (according to Danz.) Hundreds of plants love low light. Check reference books before you buy plants or check tags when you buy.

Don’t have a garden? If you read “Farm and Dairy”, I’m guessing that you probably have one of some kind. They don’t cost much, and making your own compost helps. (Remember not to include meat or dairy scraps that might attract animal scavengers.)

I wish more people would try composting – even in town, instead of bundling everything in plastic to set curb-side for the landfill truck. My daughter tells me that most of her eighth grade friends didn’t know the word “compost” when she talked about our compost pile. Yes, we grumble sometimes when we have to make a trip to our “heap.” It is farther away from our house than is ideal, but the truth is, it does us good to have an extra reason to have to go outside other than walking to the car.

One more timely piece of Cassandra Danz’s advice, we should consider. About those Christmas poinsettias that are still around for us to water (or not)? When they still show signs of life, we may be guilt ridden if we do anything less than try to take care of them. Although mine keeps dropping leaves off from the bottom, it still has mostly red leaves. I noticed my mother’s on Easter. She said it had been down to nothing but stems, and now it is covered with a fresh outcrop of bright, green, new leaves. Then, there is the one in the “Farm and Dairy” office that sits by the window looking out on State Street, Salem. It is nothing but a bare stick and and shows no signs of ever going on to any other stage of existence.

Danz says, “Forget it!” Poinsettias need special treatment, which includes eight weeks of putting them in the dark in September and October for exactly 14 hours a day. (For example, into a closet at 6 p.m. / out again 8 a.m. the next morning on the dot.) Says Mrs. Greenthumb, Danz, “Get a life! Buy a new one every year.”

Friday, April 27 is National Arbor Day. Plant a tree or at least appreciate one.

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