Eastman: Staying Flexible in April

I’ll start this by saying a feel a little foolish about my article in last month’s newsletter. I came on strong, talking about how crazy March weather is and why you need to just grin and bear it and stop “…getting yourself worked up.”

Well, the weatherman decided to teach me a lesson, and we have had an incredible month of nearly uninterrupted perfect spring weather. I asked you to exercise patience, and I hope you didn’t take me too seriously.

This brings up another important characteristic that every good gardener would do well to embody: flexibility. When someone who supposes they know what they are talking about tells you to wait, but nature is saying “Go!” it might be worth cautiously picking up momentum. There are a lot of things that can be planted in March, and with nice weather like we’ve had, I would encourage you to get started.

Yes, there are still a few things you should be wary of:

  • We can still get frosts for a good while yet; Northern Colorado’s typical last frost date is around May 15th, and Southern Wyoming can usually expect to wait until the first or second week of June.
  • Heavy snows can still cause damage; don’t put away those snow boots yet. This is particularly relevant if you built a cold frame or have covered rows in your garden. Snow can ruin a lot of hard work.
  • No matter how excited you are, working soil that is very wet will damage the soil. It doesn’t matter how much good compost, peat, manure, fertilizer or love you add, if you work waterlogged soil, you will knock all of the air right out of it, and you plants will hate you.

Now, about flexibility. Let’s assume some “know-it-all” has cautioned you against becoming overly excited about spring, yet the temperatures are regularly in the 60s and 70s and everything is starting to leaf out. It’s time to think about what we can get away with that won’t result in eventual heartache.

Most perennials can be planted now, especially if they are still dormant or have barely-emerging foliage. They will actually benefit more from being in your garden than from sitting in a pot on a bench at the nursery. The same goes for trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. Pansies, ranunculus, snap dragons, and flowering kale are just a few of the frost-hardy annuals you can plant outside, not to mention broccoli, cabbage, peas, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach. If you are starting vegetables from seed indoors, now is the time.

This is also a great time of year to work on the structure of your landscape: shape your flowerbeds, work on building that patio you’ve dreamed of, get that arbor and trellis planted firmly where they will spend the summer. That way you can better envision your garden, you’ll make better plant choices, and you won’t need to tromp through planted beds carrying a load of stone.

And here’s another flexibility issue, a corollary to my previous statement that “It’s time to think about what we can get away with that won’t result in eventual heartache.” Many of us have experienced emotional heartache when our gardening plans don’t quite match our expectations or fantasies. We’ve also experienced muscle-ache, when our precious bodies don’t quite match up with the physical tasks we’ve planned (unless we’re directing someone else to do the physical labor).

Now is the time to remind ourselves that, while getting older means that we’re hopefully getting wiser, we also need to take care of our bodies as carefully as we tend our soil and plants. A few minutes of careful stretching before starting our gardening tasks, a regular yoga class that nurtures the body and the soul, an invigorating walk – these also create the structural foundations of thriving gardens.

I hope this was helpful for you, and I invite you to look forward to next month’s article, “Why I take back what I said last month.”

Jesse Eastman, Owner and General Manager

Originally published on April 5th, 2011. Updated on April 26th, 2011.