By Jane Kivett
Do you feel your mood improved while working in garden soil?
If so, it is not just your imagination.
Several studies have found that the mycobacterium vaccae, a mood-friendly bacteria in the soil, acts like a mind-altering drug when it enters the human body either through the nose or skin.
So get out there and play in the dirt!
Chores to do in early April:
• plant summer-blooming bulbs and corms;
• feed rhodos, azaleas, pieris and camellias with an acidic fertilizer;
• fertilize perennials, shrubs and trees;
• remove the spent flowers from spring bulbs, fertilize and let the foliage die back naturally;
• snip off green foliage from variegated plants (they will try to revert back);
• attack slugs and snails now;
• place plant supports before tall growth starts;
• check spring sales of perennials, shrubs and trees.
If you pot up your annual baskets, the ‘trailers’ are already in the greenhouses.
They should be kept in a warm sunny place until the middle of May.
Questions and Answers
I would like to start composting and want to know what kind of composter to buy and how to start the process.
Composting is like ‘turning trash into treasure.’ How often do we get to do that?
The ‘treasure,’ when added to the garden soil improves structure, texture, aeration, fertility, microorganisms and micronutrients.
There are two main types of commercial composters: bins and tumblers. Both are effective in producing compost and take up about the same space in the yard.
The tumbler with a handle for turning is often more expensive but does produce compost faster.
Turning the plant waste regularly allows for the addition of air, therefore speeding the breakdown into soil.
Tumblers are smaller to provide an ease in turning.
The bin, a square plastic stationery type is slower because air is not intentionally added and mixing the green waste is difficult.
Usually that type has slots on the sides for some air to enter.
The bin type usually has a portion of the lower wall that will lift out so finished compost on the bottom can be pulled out.
The composters should be placed where there is good airflow and in direct sunlight.
Both types will have a pest-proof lid. By keeping any meat, fish, dairy and human or animal waste out of the container, the chances of attracting animals is decreased.
A mix of green/brown waste is recommended for a successful product (green from the kitchen/garden and brown from leaves, newspaper and small clippings).
When the summer is hot and dry, I give ours a drink of warm water.
One year a tomato seed sprouted in our bin composter and grew through one of the small ventilation holes.
An unbelievable amount of large fruit was harvested from that plant. Proof that compost works as fertilizer.
We recently moved to the Lower Mainland. I would like to know what the yellow-flowering shrubs or trees are that have bloomed so early?
Three plants of that description come to mind.
The earliest bloomer is witch hazel, hamamelis x intermedia, a welcome sight in January.
There are other flower colors, coppery-orange, red and coppery red, besides yellow.
The yellow varieties have the best fragrance.
The common name comes from the use of the branches as “witching sticks” or divining rods to search for water.
Besides the great scent it has striking fall foliage.
The Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis) also produces scented yellow flowers.
Forsythia, a deciduous shrub is included in the list of ‘heralds of spring’ with yellow flowers.
It can be used as a ‘standard’ specimen, a hedge or a small tree form, up to 3 m (10ft).
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is a small tree or multi-stemmed bush with yellow flowers that blooms from February to end of March and sometimes to April.
Although it is actually a dogwood, it gets its common name from the bright red fruit produced in summer.
If the berries can be picked before the birds and squirrels get them, they make tasty jams and jellies.
Check them all out to decide the best fit for your yard.
The pulmonaria (lungwort) that I bought last summer has finished blooming and looks messy. If I trim it, will it bloom again?
Lungwort is a perennial that blooms for about three weeks in early spring.
It should be tidied after flowering, but as per usual for perennials, will not bloom again until next year.
• If questions occur while you’re “playing in the dirt” send them to email@example.com.