Spring doesn't spring up here in Southcentral. We forget this after a long arctic winter because the prolonged hours of darkness induce arctic dreams that it will. So we come to expect dazzling displays of spring-flowering bulbs and emerald green lawns instantly emerging from the melting snow. These dreams leave out the real nightmares we had this winter: hurricane force windstorms.
A lawn hereabouts this time of year looks like hell. First of all, it is not green, but rather a moonscape gray-brown at best. And it is often scarred by highways created by vole traffic and appetite. If you left it long last fall, all the stuff above ground is dead, leading some so thick it is thatch.
Worse this year, though we have had this before, lawns are full of downed branches, limbs, twigs and other organic detritus that hurricane strength blows were able to bring to the ground. In some yards, those with lots of mature trees, the debris is thick. And, of course, there are still downed trees crossing many a yard that still have to be removed.
Then there are bits of garbage from the recycling bin and some old newspapers still in their wrappers, all strewn about. Dog and moose droppings (no doubt) also punctuate the lawn. All of a sudden folks have started to wonder why they were so excited to see winter's snow disappear.
Do not despair. Your winter dreams will come true, just not as quickly as you may want. The key thing for the next while is to let your yard dry out. If you don't have to be wandering around, don't. If you do, try to stay on established paths. Walking in a wet yard compacts the soil which is not healthy for the mycorrhizal and other fungi. It doesn't take long for a lawn to dry out, woods as well, so hold off if you can.
Of course, once your yard is dry, you should clean things up, though not in the old-fashioned, suburban way. Sure, pick up the big stuff. Get those trees taken care of and if you have branches and limbs of trees that will not easily mulch up with a mower or tractor, by all means gather them up for chipping, cutting and the like. While you are at it, pick up paper and other trash you don't want to see shredded.
Then run your mower through the yard. Mulch up the stuff nature drops. It is full of nutrients that will feed your lawn, trees and shrubs. You can leave it in place, or if it is too thick for your liking (your plants won't mind), gather some up for use as mulch during the season. It is perfect for use under trees and shrubs and in perennial beds as it feeds fungi that produce the proper kind of nitrogen for those plants.
Leaves too? Yes, mow these up as well. They may be wet and may require a couple of passes, even separated by a couple of days. There is no need to collect them unless you want them for mulch or need them for composting.
After you have mulched things up, consider servicing the mower blade(s) as in sharpening or replacing. You won't need your mower for at least a few weeks so if you have to take it somewhere, now would be a good time. Anyhow, it goes without saying, but I will, that you should follow safety instructions so that you will have 10 fingers for the rest of the growing season.
As for the lawn, all it is going to need for the next month is water. I know, you just waited for it to dry! Still, it will slowly green-up and growing plants need water. Do not fertilize until you see what you have. Snow, microbes and even those voles have been adding nutrients all winter long.
Join Jeff Lowenfels at "The Garden Party," 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays on KBYR AM 700.
Rain Gardens: Learn about the Municipality of Anchorage's rain garden program at 10 a.m. on May 4 at Alaska Mill and Feed. The Muni will help you pay to create a rain garden and the class is free, but please call 276-6016 to register.
Gardening with Kids: Pat Ryan with the Alaska Botanical Garden will be presenting fun ideas to garden with children at 1 p.m. on May 4, also at Alaska Mill and feed. Call 276-6016 to register.
The Annual Society of American Foresters Arbor Day Tree Seedling Sale: May 18. Seedlings are available in bundles of 20 at a cost of $25 per bundle. Species available are: lodgepole pine, Siberian larch, Colorado blue spruce, paper birch and white spruce. Full payment must be postmarked by May 13 and received at SAF, Cook Inlet Chapter, Attention: Seedling Pre-orders, P.O. Box 240432, Anchorage, AK 99524-0432. Order forms and information are also available on the SAF Cook Inlet Chapter website forestry.org/alaska.
Vegetables to start from seed: summer squash, cucumbers and pumpkins
Vegetables to plant outdoors in the next week or so: potatoes, peas, spinach, mustard, chard and kale.