The Rites of Spring
Aside from college basketball, there’s no need for any madness come the month of March! Indeed, with the approach of warmer weather, this is a great time to take a breather and plan your gardening ground game. So this month, let’s take look at some of the ways you can prepare for spring.
Do’s & Don’ts
With a spring frost still possible well into April, now is the time for caution in the yard and garden. That first warm, sunny day in March might inspire you to do TOO MUCH spring gardening. Here’s a handy list of what to do—and what NOT to do!
Unwrap your trees
Remove the wrap from any tree trunks you were protecting. Leaving the wrap on too long can trap moisture and foster disease.
Cut back perennials and grasses
Trim old ornamental grass stalks to a couple inches above ground before new growth starts and remove any dried stalks from perennials. Do this while the ground is still frozen or thoroughly drained and dry.
Now is the time to research the trees, shrubs or perennials you intend to add later this year. Find out what species are best for your site, locate some sources, and take time now to choose the right plants – and decide where you’ll place them.
Bring the beauty indoors
Cut branches of spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia or quince, and place them in a vase of warm water encouraging them to bloom indoors! Just prune carefully and leave the overall shape of your plant looking beautiful.
Walk on wet soil
Be aware that a subsurface layer of ice can trap water below. Wait until the soil is thawed and dry all the way down before you walk or dig in the yard or garden. Otherwise, you risk compacting the soil which can smother plant roots – including grass.
Clean too much
No matter how much you want a tidy garden, leave some fallen leaves on garden beds to protect plants from hard freezes that can still occur. Later in the season, keep some leaves on the ground as mulch to enrich the soil and to protect plant roots.
Mow, fertilize or treat
Wait until mid-April before applying herbicides or doing any similar lawn care. It’s best to let the grass grow for a few weeks before working on it!
Don’t Go It Alone
Don’t have the right space or conditions for gardening? Or maybe you’re looking for a fun, rewarding way to engage with neighbors? The Chicago area has hundreds of community gardens like these—where folks come together to plant, learn and grow.
Wicker Park Community Garden | 1425 Damen Ave, Chicago: Volunteer with the Wicker Park Garden Club in partnership with the Chicago Park District to learn about and help maintain this spacious ornamental garden featuring beautiful, sustainable, native plants.
Community Gardens of Evanston: The city of Evanston offers more than 200 plots available for residents to rent by the season. There are four locations including James Park Gardens on Oakton between McCormick and Dodge and Lighthouse Gardens off Sheridan Road just north of the Grosse Point Lighthouse.
Diversey Harbor Community Garden | 2601 N Cannon Dr, Chicago: As part of the Chicago Park District, this 7,245 square-foot garden in Lincoln Park has 80 4’X4 plots for 3-season organic edible gardening.
West Andersonville Gardens | 5335 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago: Maintained by community volunteers for more than a quarter century, this strolling garden runs along the METRA tracks from Berwyn to Balmoral and features trees and plants seldom seen in other parts of Chicagoland.
No Yard? No Problem!
You don’t need a large plot of land to grow your own produce! If you have access to a rooftop, balcony or outdoor common area, here are some container gardening tips.
The Right Container: Small pots dry out more quickly, so use the largest one possible—keeping in mind the size of your space and the weight once it’s full of wet soil. Self-watering planters can be a good solution. Some plants like basil, lettuce and radishes need only 4” to 5” of soil depth. Others like dill, rosemary, chard and broccoli need at least 9” to 12” to grow well.
The Right Soil: Don’t use soil mixes intended for outdoor use; drainage is vital when it comes to container gardening so look for potting mixes specifically made for this purpose. And don’t fill your pot to the rim: Leave a couple inches so you have room to water without overflowing!
The Right Spot: Most vegetables require at least 6 hours of direct sun daily! Salad greens and herbs can usually get by with less. Tomatoes, peppers and beans do better with even more sunlight hours. Consider putting your pots on wheels so they can be easily moved to maximize sunlight.
REMEMBER! Even if you start your seeds indoors, most vegetables shouldn’t be planted outdoors until late March or April. Cucumber, squash and tomatoes are especially sensitive to frost and shouldn’t be placed outside until early May!