Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?


You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.


The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

How Did the Garden Gift Givers Do?

In the days leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, I heard and read a lot of different stories about “the best gifts for gardeners.” I may have shared a few on Twitter myself.

But I probably shared very few because for the most part very few of them actually appealed to me!  Call me jaded–or perhaps it’s just that after 20-plus years of gardening in the same location, I have what I need–but lots of suggestions for gloves, pruners, twine and things like that I just didn’t find the least bit appealing.

For one thing, I have very tiny hands–so tiny that I will occasionally buy child-sized gloves. Anyone who buys me gloves is going to have to know me pretty well to get that correct.

And that will go for pruners as well. First of all, after all these years, I have literally dozens lying around the garage–and house. I have them in just about every room (with all those house plants, they come in handy!) But I don’t like just any pruner and when I am outside pruning most things a particular pair of Felcos™ is my go to pruner of choice. I don’t want–or need–anything else.

I did get a gardening book for Christmas but I have so many that it’s one I specifically asked for. Again, unless you know your gardener well–or unless it’s one of the very latest offerings from a publisher, how do you know the gardener hasn’t read it? I adore books as gifts and think winter is the perfect time to catch up on new reads and new gardening techniques. But I wouldn’t just spring a book on an unsuspecting gardener unless I were somehow sure he or she hadn’t read it.

The one suggestion that I heard a few times that I thought was good was a garden gift certificate. Yes, it’s unimaginative–one step above cash–but at least you know your gardening friend will truly be able to put it to good use for plants, tools or books that he or she really wants. Nothing wrong with that.

So if you haven’t finished your gifting yet–and some of you haven’t, with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just beginning–maybe these thoughts will help you with the gardeners in your life.


Wearable Succulents? Are They Kidding?!

So all of a sudden, the “trend” in succulents seems to be plastering them to things and wearing them.

Remember, I am the person who doesn’t like succulents to begin with because they get “untidy” so it’s not as if I am naturally going to embrace any kind of trend that exploits long trails of succulents hanging off fingernails (“Google”it–I don’t want to post photos because I don’t want to violate anyone’s copyrights–or worse yet, insult anyone’s creativity any more so than I am already doing).

But suddenly I am seeing succulents everywhere–on jewelry and the aforementioned fingernails ( several types of designs for fingernails, mind you!) and shoes and purses and all manner of wearables.

Surely these designs are not meant for those of us who live in colder climates (even if we liked them?) I just can’t understand how my succulent necklace–or bangle bracelets–would enjoy a trip out to a party in December in my climate when the night time temperature might be in the 30s or even lower.  Would I have to carry an insulated bag to keep it protected until I arrived? And then put the item back in the bag to get it safely from the party–or where ever–safely back to my home? Sounds like a lot of effort. Clearly these items are just for warmer climates!

And the nails would never work. Not in a climate where gloves are a must!

And while they are visually stunning (I am sure you can find lots of examples on your social media of choice. They appeared in my Twitter feed but I am sure Pinterest is overflowing with them, and Instagram must be as well!), how does one keep them alive? Surely succulents were not intended to live on jewelry–much less on nails! Are they intended to be kept alive later? Or are they disposable? I really don’t like the thought of a whole cottage industry of disposable plants.

If however they are grown just for this purpose perhaps it’s no worse than the cut Christmas tree industry. Or the cut flower industry. So maybe I am over-reacting in that way because I see them as “plants” and not as “cuttings.” If that’s the case, then I guess I can accept the premise at least–but you still won’t see me with the wearables, as stunning as they are!

You Don’t Do What??!!

Happy Earth Day!

No matter what I am lecturing on, the topic inevitably comes around to fertilizing. And the question, or questions are something like “What do you feed your plants?” or “How often do you feed your plants?” or some variation on that theme.

So when my answer comes back “I don’t feed my plants,” there’s practically a near riot in the room. It’s almost as if I’ve said “Don’t feed a baby in its first year of life” or something equally horrifying.

But this is absolutely true with the exception of one or two very large plants that I can no longer transplant. Because I don’t give those plants fresh soil–ever–I will occasionally feed them (and I do mean occasionally, as in I cannot recall the last time I did it but it was probably over a year ago).

Most of the time this discussion is taking place around some sort of potted or containerized plant that I am holding in my hand. So then the other questions begin.

But what about your annuals? No. When I buy my annuals, they are already so pumped full of commercial fertilizers that they need no extra help from me. Then I put them in fresh soil and they are good to go for the rest of the season. They’re annuals–they flower, in my cold climate, for a maximum of 4 1/2 to 5 months if I am lucky. There’s no need to boost them full of extra fertilizers, especially as the sun and warmth is dying in late August!

What about your vegetable? Again, no. I get them off to a really good start in good soil. Then I prepare my beds well. I try to amend with compost every few years. If you feed the soil, there is no need to feed the plants.

And as for established landscape plantings, I take the long view of things. I leave leaves on the ground, in the beds, over the winter and only put them in the compost heap in the spring. That way, nutrients can leech from those leaves into the beds through the action of the rain and the snow (and the worms and the other good stuff in my soil).

And come spring–right about now, in other words–I am not out there roto-tilling or otherwise disturbing those beds. I only disturb what I have to for new plantings or for weeding purposes.

It’s radical, I know, but give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll spend a lot less money and have some more time for yourself as well!



The Quest for Garden Perfection

On this April Fool’s Day, let’s not be Gardening Fools, shall we?

Where I garden, in central Connecticut, it’s still pretty cold. In fact, over the weekend and into early next week, they’re predicting snow in some amounts from flurries to a few inches perhaps. So it’s really too early to do much “gardening.”

But that hasn’t stopped my neighbors (who as you know by now, I like to use as regular examples of Gardening Fools).

Last Sunday, my next door neighbor was mowing his lawn–on Easter–on his tractor.  I can still see the mud ruts he left because our heavy clay soil is far too wet to be thinking about doing anything in, never mind compacting with a tractor! And he wonders why his lawn is a mass of weeds, does he? Scraping it at inappropriate times of the year has a funny way of leading to bad consequences. Try not to follow his behavior.

He will then douse that same lawn in so many chemicals that he has actually killed some of my plants with the drift. Please don’t be that type of Gardening Fool, okay? If you practice good garden practices to begin with, you can vastly eliminate the need to kill your abutting neighbor’s plants!

Finally, a little further down the block, another neighbor is already out with the crabgrass preventer. I only happened to notice it by pellets he left lying on the pavement (and the chemical smell as I walked by with the dog).

Please, if you are going to be a home applicator, try to not coat the street in front of your home with noxious chemical fertilizers. It’s bad enough that those of us that walk dogs have to dodge and weave all season long to try to avoid the Chem-lawn (excuse me, Tru-Green) coated lawns that we are warned against.

But to have to avoid pellets in the street–which are then washed into the storm drains and therefore our waterways–is really asking too much of us. Don’t be this type of Gardening Fool! Keep your fertilizers–of whatever type–on your lawns and in your beds, please.

On Monday I’ll talk about what I’d love to see in lawns–the beloved Freedom Lawn. In this election year, what could be more patriotic?


Overt Education at the Flower Show


This is the award winning landscape that I talked about on Friday–the one that won 10 awards, including the Environmental award. It won more awards than any other exhibit in the show, evidence that they were doing something right.


Sadly, however, as I stood there happily snapping photos, most of the people around me had no idea what they were looking at. One couple next to me said, “It’s okay–I don’t really know what’s going on.”


So I actually stopped to explain that the landscape was depicting native habitats and native plants. They were still completely unimpressed. The showy  flowers and blooms and the green grass of the other exhibits were way too enticing.


I even heard one little boy squeal in terror when he saw the fake dragonfly on the log.  “Ooh, a bug,” he screamed (and I am NOT kidding.) Talk about nature deficit disorder! I didn’t even try with that kid!

The fabulous display is courtesy of Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery. They had a similar display, without the sandy habitat, last year.

The CNLA (the nursery trade group) also had a great display showing homeowners the “right” and “wrong” way to plant trees and landscape yards. There were examples of the infamous “mulch volcanoes” and instances of shrubs packed in way too tightly on one side of their display contrasted with the proper way to plant and mulch trees and space shrubs on the other side. Again, that was beautifully done and a really nice piece of education for the average home owner or gardener.

I am not sure how many noticed, however, despite large 2’x3′ signs that said things like “mulch volcanoes” and “wrong.” I had to point out the point of the exhibit to the Spoiler so I am not sure how much the average home owner took notice–but I loved it!

As for new and fabulous plants, with the exception of a new (to me) houseplant, I really didn’t see anything. There was no one “wow” plant that every one landscaper or exhibitor was using. If fact, if anything, I saw fewer new plants than in past years.

As as for trends–there wasn’t anything that stood out. No edible gardens. No chickens. Only one outdoor kitchen. The usual display of ponds but there are always a ton of ponds. If anything, the landscape exhibits seemed to go backward in time.

But I forgive them because of the excellent quality of the two educational exhibits. I just wish I thought more people “got” it.

The Garden Contrarian

There are days when I just feel like a big curmudgeon.  Last season I did a whole series of posts called “Let’s Not Be Mindless…” about different things including how to use mulch.  Most times when I talk about why I don’t use mulch on my heavy, wet clay soil I feel a little like John the Baptist: a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness.

Unlike John, however, my voice is rarely heeded. I think people think I am just a contrarian.

Now it’s “spring” (at least according to the calendar) or what passes for spring in my part of the country: cold, wet damp days on end followed by an occasional nice day or perhaps even an unseemly warm day.  Mud season. People ask my why I’m not out working in the garden.

“Can’t,” I reply. “The soil is too wet. I’ll ruin it.”

Now I might as well be one of those mythical beasts with 3 or 4 heads from the looks I get. Even the magazines are running articles and newsletter posts with titles like “Get Out There!”

Well, yes, and no. Depending on where you live, what your conditions are, and how wet your soil is, you can really be doing a lot of harm if you “get out there” and walk on wet lawn or soil.

So gardeners, know yourselves, your gardens and your conditions. And on a bright sunny day, if those conditions aren’t right for working in the garden, take a walk instead!