Spring has to be the most exciting time of year for people who love to garden. After a long Michigan winter, Spring offers up a reset. The sheer amount of stuff to do and look at can become wonderfully overwhelming. Although I start planning my growing season right after the holidays, it isn’t until Spring that I find myself with an unending list of things to look after, prepare, and ogle. I thought it would be nice to write about all the things I love about the season, and a couple things that I strongly don’t love.
Preparing the Garden
Sure, this seems a lot like a chore, but honestly, much of the gardening experience can be viewed like that. I personally love it. My general routine involves putting on my giant Bluetooth headphones and listening to the Dateline podcast (which is just episodes of Dateline that are labeled as a podcast) and getting my hands dirty! Well, I actually wear gardening gloves, but you get the idea.
One of the first things I do is “open up my pond.” Which, for me, is getting out my pond vacuum and sucking out as many of the leaves that I can. I was smart enough to put a net over it in the Fall to keep out the bulk of them, but there were so many birds drinking from it that I started getting worried that they would get caught up in the netting, so I took it off. I’m an unfortunate bleeding heart of a human. That, and who wants to untangle dead birds during the holidays?
After I feel like I have gotten the majority of the leaves, I do multiple water changes and hook up my pump system. I have a very basic rectangular shaped pond that is five by six feet and goes down to three feet at its deepest. It is more of an in-ground aquarium than a pond, but I love it. The fish seem to love it too. They didn’t tell me that, but they seem fine; happy even. I also use a series of products called Microbe Lift that I have had good luck with in the past. They jump start the beneficial bacteria process and help break down any extra leaves I miss. Honestly, my pond cleanup is minimal, but it works for me. I don’t feel the need to take the fish out and power wash everything. The fish live off of all the stuff in the pond and I do weekly water changes throughout the Summer. The added benefit of the water changes is that I use them to water my garden, and that makes my plants happy!
Other important cleanup jobs mostly have me putzing around and grabbing at emerging weeds and trimming back ornamental grasses and anything else that might need a good pruning. I like to give my climbing roses a good cutback in earliest spring. Roses are surprisingly resilient about pruning, so don’t worry about really going at it. Or you can always just leave them. Just make sure to deadhead them during the Summer. Make a Post-It and stick it somewhere on the plant to remind yourself. Post-Its are great reminders!
Mulching is always a great way to finish off your cleanup. This year, I got a bunch of free compost from SOCCRA. We saw a giant pile of the gorgeous stuff and made multiple trips with five-gallon buckets, and I applied a nice layer around everything. If your garden soil is already in good health, this isn’t necessary, but I felt like mine needed some organic matter to help out. By mulching with it, I’m doing a quasi-no till method. If you want, compost is also great to mix in with your existing soil, but I have so many perennials around, that wasn’t really an option.
I also have the weird habit of moving my plants around like furniture. It’s the result of having had no real plan with my garden and just impulsively shoving things in wherever and then deciding later that I didn’t like where it was shoved. I’ve already moved some Russian Sage, Black-Eyed Susans, and Echinacea.
Enjoying the Spring Bulbs
Back in the Fall, I planted over seven-hundred bulbs around my front and back gardens, five hundred of which were tulips that I planted in a close mass in the middle of my front garden. This is always a crazy undertaking that involves digging out a big section at five inches depth and placing all the soil on a tarp. Then, I place the tulips, so they are close, but not touching, and then gently shovel the soil back over them. Explaining that process doesn’t do justice to the labor that goes into the endeavor. The result in the Spring makes it all worth it! Last year I watched as various people passing by would stop and take selfies. The only downside to this is that I have to take them out in early Summer before I put annual flowers in their place. The tulips, not the people. I try and give away as many as I can, or re-home them somewhere else in the garden. Getting these bulbs every year seems a little wasteful to some, but it is of great joy to me and I think that makes it worth all the trouble.
Looking After seedlings in the Grow Tent
This one actually has its ups and downs on an emotional level. I absolutely love the process of growing things from seed, but I get truly bummed out when things don’t go as expected, which they often don’t. Although I get better every season at growing this way, there are always bumps in the road and I screw up here and there. For the most part though, I love spending a bit of time every morning checking in on what has germinated and watching the seedlings grow. There is quite a bit of problem solving which I generally find enjoyable. I always prepare for the worst by telling myself that I can always sow a bunch of Zinnia seeds everywhere after the frosts are done if everything else I’ve been growing doesn’t work out. Zinnias grow really quickly and easily, and I am a big fan! Total meltdown of my grow tent stock has not happened yet (fingers crossed), but it helps to have a contingency plan. It’s important to note that seedlings are very sensitive to water conditions, so make sure that you don’t let them dry out or get too wet. As with a lot of plant care, you are looking for that Goldilocks level sweet spot.
Waking up Cannas, Callas, and Elephant Ears
This sort of goes hand in hand with the seedlings and also can be a little bit of a roller coaster of feelings. Last year I “woke up” my Cannas in early February to give them a big head start. This year I waited until late March. I’m not sure I am happy with that decision, seeing that it is the end of April as I am writing this and Only half of them are starting to sprout up. They take a while to come back from their winter nap! I am relieved that they are finally growing. I always am. I tend to think the worst and figured that they all were dead, and I did everything wrong with my overwintering process. This year that would have bothered me more, seeing that I wrote an article about it back in the Fall! The true manifestation of Imposter Syndrome! The Elephant Ears on the other hand, woke right up and some already have nice leaves on them. The Calla lilies also are leafed out and will probably sport some buds on them by the time I take them out in a couple of weeks. It was my first-year overwintering both of those and I am very pleased with the results. If you decide to overwinter bulbs, corms, or rhizomes, please don’t get discouraged if they don’t all work out. Any survivors are a win!
Even though I try and grow as many things from seed as possible, I still love a good plant sale! May is a great time to get out and about and look for anything that might be on your wish list, or something that you didn’t know that you loved yet! One of my favorites is the Cranbrook House & Gardens yearly plant sale. They have a great variety of native plants, perennials, houseplants, herbs, and more! Last year they had some great little fairy gardens that my daughter absolutely loved! It’s taking place on Friday, May 19th from 10:00am-5:00pm and Saturday, May 20th from 10:00am-2:00pm. The proceeds go to help maintain the beautiful gardens there that are always free to visit. If you haven’t spent time there, you are missing out! We walk around year-round due to my winter garden love.
Arguably, the most looked forward to plant sale of the year is Eastern Market Flower Day. It’s been going on since 1967 and has over 160 vendors this year. It’s happening on Sunday, May 21st, and according to their website, you can arrive as early as 3-4am to get the best stuff. So, if you miss that old feeling of camping out for Lollapalooza tickets as a kid, you can recreate the excitement there.
Fluctuating Temperatures and the Dreaded “Frost Warning”
Even with all the things that I love about spring, this always casts a major shadow on everything and usually results in me cursing our State. You would think that I would be used to the ridiculous changes in weather that we deal with here, but I find it highly unlikely that I ever will. This year feels like it has really outdone itself. The early warm-up that we experienced really confused all the plants in my garden. I say warm-up, but eighty-degree days in early April is ridiculous. I was trying to enjoy the beautiful weather, but I knew it wasn’t going to last and that we weren’t done being slapped around by the “mitten”. With the last-frost date almost upon us, gardeners have to deal with the unexpected “frost warnings” staring at us cruelly from our weather apps. Last year, I ran around covering everything up, but this year I’ve only thrown cloches and bins over a couple of things that I really hold dear.
Spring Rains that Flood the Garden
When we first moved into our house four years ago, the far end of our back-yard would flood every time it would rain. As I have cultivated it into a garden and added organic matter and dug out the solid clay that we had it has gotten way better. In fact, this wasn’t an issue at all last year. For some reason, the floods have returned, and every time it does, I expect every plant to die. Too much water will deprive the roots of oxygen and not unlike us, the plants will drown. So far that hasn’t happened. Although, the ferns haven’t come up yet so who knows.
Last year I went to the Mackinaw Island Lilac festival and got a little Lilac tree that was cut from one of the islands and nursed it in a pot all last Summer. In the early Fall I decided to plant it in the back of my garden and figured that floods were a thing of the past. I was wrong, but the little tree seems to be doing fine.
Even if you don’t garden yourself, Spring is an amazing time to get out and enjoy other people’s botanical work. Taking a simple walk around the neighborhood will show you all the wonders that nature is showing off right now. If you do garden, grow some seeds, buy some plants, and enjoy yourselves! Happy Gardening!
Jamiel Dado is passionate about plants and wants to spread his love of gardening to anyone who will listen.