Patience in the garden

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

The day I wrote this column on May 3, host Robyn Bresnahan of CBC’s Ottawa Morning radio program asked listeners to submit gardening questions to Mary Reid, of Nepean’s Green Thumb Garden. I tweeted, “I have an established organic garden. When’s the best time to split perennials such as phlox and iris?”

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

The day I wrote this column on May 3, host Robyn Bresnahan of CBC’s Ottawa Morning radio program asked listeners to submit gardening questions to Mary Reid, of Nepean’s Green Thumb Garden. I tweeted, “I have an established organic garden. When’s the best time to split perennials such as phlox and iris?”
My question aired and Reid replied, recommending I wait until the soil is thawed, and after temperatures are consistently warmer throughout the day and more importantly, night. She noted it is the same for transplanting plants from indoor home-starter setups or nurseries, where they are used to inside warmth and shelter. Transplanting into the outdoors shocks plants and their roots.
Weather predictions, you ask?
The Farmers’ Almanac predicted “a volatile March and cold April” – pretty darn accurate, frankly. And as for May? For Ottawa/Gatineau through Montréal and Québec City, the Almanac predicts an average temperature of 11.5°C (one degree below normal), with 25mm above-average precipitation of 90mm. (bit.ly/2JPejCY).
So, waiting seems prudent.
Soil temperatures
Reid said that when evening temperatures drop to 2°C, regardless if daytime temperatures are in the teens or twenties, plants should not be planted outside because the soil can remain frozen or be too cold for transplants. The rule of thumb, she insisted, is to wait; that is the reason for the May long weekend (19-21 May this year) — it is the start of gardening season in our region.
So, if you are starting to rake and tidy up your garden, beware. Avoid totally exposing tender plants; think about leaving some of winter’s leaves or other protection on for a while.
However, I’m not going to completely stay out of my garden…what will I be doing?
Cleaning up
I often leave seedpods and stalks of plants such as phlox and iris to overwinter in beds here at Spiritwood. That’s because I have a wildlife-friendly garden, where I like to offer both shelter and food sources for birds.
However, now I have metre-high, unsightly looking plant stalks that I can trim, before they are tangled in spring’s new growth. Returning bird migrants can find their own food sources (and some still visit my niger seed feeding stations).
Mind you, I am extremely careful with my footing, because I have so much packed into my garden beds. I don’t want to step on new perennial growth as I can already see shoots and blossoms of native species such as prairie crocus, and the delicate looking but hardy bird’s-foot violet. And I can see the shiny crimson shoots of peonies reaching to the light.
So although you’ll see me in my garden beds, I won’t be planting nursery or house plants outdoors yet.
Instead, I will be patiently waiting before I split and lift perennials or plant the nursery grown veggies I purchase locally. However, I will be planting vegetable seeds such as peas and spinach and tidying my raised beds in the vegetable gardens.
Have fun everyone, outside in the fresh air.

Contact Katharine at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com
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