Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Fishpond

My small fishpond looks its yukkiest this time of year. Full of debris, dark in color and still with its deicer in place, it looks uninhabitated. Not So! Under the mire are frogs still a-slumber, and goldfish slowly swim its murky depths. I won't clean the pond out until the frogs emerge from hibernation several weeks hence. But since the nights are now above freezing, it's time to remove the deicer that's been plugged in since early December. The 6" round green disk floats on the surface, keeping a space ice-free, and thus allowing the gas exchange which permits fish and amphibians to survive the winter.

My 8' circular pond, only 18" in depth, has been in place nine years now, and remains a source of joy. Not too much maintenance is required. I give it a good cleanup in April, run the waterfall regularly in the warm months, (which keeps the water oxygenated) and rely on barley straw (available at Gardener's Supply, among other places) to control algae. A couple of times a season I do have to scoop out a layer of string algae, but that stuff gives an aquatic boost to the compost pile.

I learned the hard way how not to kill overwintering frogs. After the first disasterous winter when I had to have Courtney's boyfriend scoop out carcasses come spring, I figured that since my pond has a butyl liner and therefore no mud into which to burrow for hibernation, I had to do something else. Here's what I did:

First, I left the autumn debris in the pond. I know, I know, this runs counter to what the books tell you. But the layer of junk gives the frogs something to live in. Second, I sank a plastic dishwasher pan of clean sand into the water. (It comes out in pond cleanup in April, & is stored in the shed.) Since I've been doing these two things I've seen no more dead frogs in my fishpond.

The pond, with its murmuring waterfall, glistening fish, and regal green frogs, is an oasis in my garden. For a few paltry hours of maintenance I get sound, color, and livestock. A worthy deal!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prepping the Pots

To brighten my shady patio, I plant and maintain around 50 pots of annuals each year, clustered by the posts to the deck and beside my hammock. Their schedule goes something like this:

The empty pots are stored upside down under my deck all winter, and hauled out in March. Now's the time! Yesterday I raked and swept the patio, positioned the pots, filled them halfway with homemade compost, and proceeded to top off with purchased potting soil. I prefer Miracle-Gro or similar products, with fertilizer already incorporated. To cut watering chores, I add Soil-Moist to the uppermost layer. I give the soil a week or so to settle, then pop in the annuals. For now it's just pansies, but in a few weeks it'll be the geraniums, coleus, and abutilon I wintered over, as well as purchased croton, New Guinea impatiens, and other interesting annuals. These I like to get from Hollandia, which has a fabulous selection, but also at Bethel Food, selected from their indoor plant area.
My potted cast of characters changes from year to year, but is a constant source of joy as I laze (all too infrequently, alas!) in my hammock.

Maintenance is easy. I keep an attractive watering can (French Blue, from Gardener's Supply) handy, and douse the pots as they need it. Most of what I grow doesn't require deadheading, although I do deer repel regularly. I try to vary the height and size of the pots, and the color and texture of the plants, so as to keep the display intriguing.

At the end of the season, the plants are either composted (most), cuttings taken for overwintering (coleus, abuitlon), or pulled up for cold storage in the garage (geranium). The depleted potting soil is dumped on garden beds to soften bulb-planting areas, and pots are again stored under the deck, to await Fair Spring.

Which, my friends, is now here!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Opening Day!

Temperatures above 50 and a smattering of sunshine found me yesterday in the garden, proceeding with opening-the-season chores. I cut some branches of forsythia to force. (the hope is they'll adorn the tables at the next Bethel United Methodist Church Pasta Dinner, on the 28th. We'll see if Nature cooperates) Next, I dragged out some big bags of potting soil that I'd been stockpiling and started filling patio pots. The done compost is thawed, so first the pots were half filled with that black gold. The pansies will be available soon at the markets, and I want to be prepared. I'll put some Soil-Moist in before I plant, and the pots of pansies, with some deadheading and murdering of slugs, will last until July 1.

Next I carefully cut away the old leaves from my hellebores, which are about to burst into bloom. For those of you who follow my gardening column in the News-Times, look for more information this Friday on Lenten Roses.

Kyle then helped me to haul the 30-gallon garbage can of winter compost down to my new compost pile which Don so gleefully referenced in a comment a week ago. The accumulated frozen slurry is now at work, jumpstarting a new pile.

And, I raked some on the lawn. I like to give the grass a good massage with a wide rake in early spring. It removes the leaves, twigs and dead grasses, and provides me with an aerobic workout. Not all the lawn is dry enough to work, however, so I'll take it in stages. The rakings, of course, go into the compost.

All this took me about 2 hours. Then I replaced my tools, peeled off my muddy gloves and went inside to jot down my endeavors in this year's garden diary. Got to keep track!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ornamental Grass Maintenance

Looks like winter has released his frozen hold, at least temporarily. The past couple of days have seen temperatures in the 50's, so where does that find me? In the garden! I snow-shoveled the driveway edge scrapings into the compost pile, scooped up soggy leaves from the patio, and cut down some bedraggled perennials, including my ornamental grasses.

The pennesitum, chasmanthium, miscanthus, panicum, etc, serve the garden well for 3 seasons. But come early spring, they must be lopped off. Grab your hedge shears (not your pruners, you'll give yourself carpal tunnel!) and hack away. It helps if you hoist up a big handful, then cut. Put the leavings in the compost pile. It'll make the pile huge, but they will break down in a couple months. Be sure to rake the bed & lawn after your work session, so stray strands of grass don't blow all over the neighborhood.

Once clipped, your ornamental grasses will look denuded, and your yard will seem suddenly exposed. But rest assured, in a month, new green spears of grass will be peeking up from the stubbly mess you left behind.

And the cycle will start anew.......

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Will It Ever End?

This winter is interminable. As much as I rail about global warming, as much as I wished for a real old-fashioned winter, this has simply gone on too long. That 10" of snow last Sunday/Monday was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I'm itching to get out and inspect the garden. I want to prune, and plan, if not plant. I long to see some bare earth, and find the first flower. (a Johnny-jump-up, most likely) I want to haul the winter compost to the main pile by the mailbox garden, and clean out the supplies slopped in a corner of the garage. I'm eager to drag the patio pots out and clean sodden leaves off the deck and see what plant labels this winter has torn away. I want Kyle to get his motorcycle out of my garden shed so I can take inventory of pots, seed starting supplies and fertilizer. I want to be able to walk outside without bundling up like Nanook of the North.

I want Spring!