By Michelle Rauch
Punxsutawney Phil got it right this year when he saw his shadow back in February, forecasting six more weeks of winter. While Phil the groundhog is not known for his accuracy, he hit the nail on the head this year. The Old Farmers Almanac has been around since George Washington’s days with better odds of predicting the weather than old Phil. They, too, predicted a long, nasty winter with below-normal temperatures and above-normal snowfall. The bottom line, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was more eager than usual for spring. And now it is upon us with seemingly more work to do on that spring-cleaning list than usual.
While our landscapes are relatively adaptable to the bitterly cold temperatures, ice is something else. The layers of ice that coated central Kentucky a few weeks ago pulled the bushes in front of my house all the way to the ground. That weight can be devastating. Fortunately, my bushes perked back up and appear to have weathered that storm. If your shrubberies succumb to the ice, hopefully you let it be until now. Trying to remove ice while its still on branches can cause even more damage. With April’s warmer temperatures, now is the time to remove broken stems and mushy, brown foliage. Light trimming is fine, but don’t go overboard. Branches that may appear to be dead may not be. Fertilize and wait. Time could be on your side and new growth may emerge. It may just take a little longer. After the ice storm of 2009 I was certain my beautiful weeping willow had all it could take. After removing the broken limbs there were large bald spots in the tree. It took two full years, but the tree is as lush as ever. Thankfully I was patient.
The winter was so bad the salt barn had to be restocked in Lexington. All that extra salt on the road eventually runs off which can end up in your yard. If that’s a concern there’s an easy fix. Flush it out by watering the affected areas in your landscape. Soak the soil at least six inches deep to reach the roots. Hopefully you won’t have too much repair work to do so you can get to the fun stuff, planting and watching that garden grow.
Your ‘to do’ list in April, after the threat of frost is gone, should include planting above ground crops like beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers. Flower gardens can also be planted during the first half of the month, although I’m keeping some sheets handy just in case we are threatened by a frost and they need overnight cover. Mid-month is a good time to plant beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, and other root crops. Plant cabbage, lettuce, and other leafy veggies like my favorite, kale. With your spring planting done, spend the end of the month killing weeds and ridding the garden of other pests.
It’s safe to say we’ve all had it with this winter. Even Punxsutawney Phil’s Kentucky kin said the heck with it. I spotted those critters not once, but twice along my back fence in early March. If the groundhog’s need to come out of hibernation last month is a sign they were suffering from cabin fever as badly as I was, then we may be in for a long spring battling for territory over my backyard. Groundhogs beware: I have been cooped up all winter. I will be in my yard seven days a week, hours a day and Dixie Belle the purebred Airedale terrier will be by my side. Fighting words from a gardener who is ready to dig in. Enough said.