Start watering and pulling weeds now

Jeff Lowenfels

I don't know if it has been cooler than most years, but it does remind me that the pioneer gardeners always waited until Memorial day weekend to plant outside at the earliest and usually waited for the last weekend of the month. Global warming aside, the old pioneer ways still can make some sense. Soils are cool. Those leaves the size of squirrel ears seem to be taking a long time in getting any larger.

What this means is those who plant this weekend, or have already planted, should make sure they do as much as they can to baby things along. Plastic or the light, woven, poly cloth called Reemay will warm the soil during the day and hold in heat at night. Using warm water is another way to help. Shielding plants from the wind, too, is a must. All are precautions to take if you plant this weekend or later next week, as well.

Either way, it is dry (or was until I wrote those words). We have to have some water on perennials or they will have a dismal season. Clematis, blue poppies, iris like it a bit damp and those that grow tall -- like angelicas, delphiniums and ligularias -- really need water to get off to the fast start they need given our short season. Move those sprinklers over to the perennial beds and pull back the mulch a bit and water. Roots of perennials are deep, so soak the soil with a few inches of water at one sitting. Remember, perennials like soil that has more fungi than bacteria decaying things, so, if possible, mulch with leaves and wood chips.

Raspberries, are leafing out now and they will appreciate moisture this time of year. While you are in the patch, it is time to cut back the dead canes that produced last year. Wear gloves. Those tiny raspberry stickers can do some real hand damage.

My least favorite fruit/vegetable, rhubarb, also needs lots of water right now. Again, once you water, make sure there is mulch covering the soil (There is no bare soil in nature). This mulch should help hold the moisture in a bit and, hopefully, you won't have to water again because we will get some rain.

Trees, too, would do well with a good watering. A stressed plant is much more susceptible to insect attack. The aphids will be on the weakest birch trees in the greatest numbers. Give your trees what they need to build and maintain defenses -- and that includes ample water, especially as the leaves and new spring roots are developing.

The best way to water a tree is to put a sprinkler under the outer branches and let it water both under the tree and out into the lawn. It is really dry. Two or three inches should be sufficient for starters. And, again, a good mulch under the branches makes sense. Trees grow in woods and forests and are not really meant for lawns. In forests there is always a layer of leaves under every tree. The same should be true for those trees in your yard.

Finally, it is never too early to start getting weeds. Dandelions are green and getting fat and happy. This is a great time to get out the dandelion tools and start hand weeding a few minutes every day. The first "butter-and-eggs" are up in rock gardens, along fences and foundations and wherever it is particularly warm. Pull them by hand. Even chickweed is showing. Get it early.

The one weed you can't control, so don't even try, is horsetail.

There are other weeds to look for, indeed. We all have our own personal ones. Mine is a particularly nasty strain of purple, Campanula glomerata. It has spear shaped leaves and forms a mat in the one perennial bed into which it sneaked 10 years ago. (I use a Cobra Head tool to slice and dice 'em every year before covering them). Only you know what plagues your garden, but get at it now. It pays to do this chore early.

Finally, just a seasonal reminder to take it easy: You don't have to do it all in one weekend. Prioritize by what needs to go into the ground first, and then pick a few chores. Gardening is a hobby, not a job.

America's longest-running garden columnist, Jeff Lowenfels, returns to the airwaves with "The Garden Party" on AM-700 KBYR at 10 a.m. on Saturday.