We can enjoy the fruits of cold weather

Weather — we bitch and complain about it almost on a daily basis. I look at it this way, at least I’m here and able to complain.

Actually, there are some major benefits to the cool spring, one that fruit growers are happy about. A huge worry this time of year is a sudden early warm spell that lasts for several weeks. Warm weather signals trees that time has arrived to start the flow of sap upwards from the roots. Leaf and flower buds that have been dormant since fall are told to wake up; it’s time to do their thing.

In our area we know that we can have a frost at any time, with mid-May as the end of frost season, though frost has occurred later than that. Since cool weather inhibits the tree from awakening, there will be no early blooms to be killed.

In the meantime, stop complaining that it is cold. Hot July, with days with humidity that will unbearable, is on its way.

TOAD-ALLY GOOD

You know there is one sure way to know if your landscape is a good one. Toads are a great indicator that you are doing things right.

Toads are amphibians, as are frogs, salamanders and newts. They are thin-skinned creatures, requiring water to be available to continue the species. Being thin-skinned, they find that sun is harmful, wind can dry out their skin and any pesticides or weed killers can easily be taken in through their skin.

Since toads and the rest of the amphibians are insect eaters, why use pesticides to kill insects in your yard? The use of native plants will attract the insects needed for not only themselves, but for birds. Remember, insects are also pollinators.

I do want to clear up some myths associated with toads and even frogs. Kissing a toad or frog will not get you a prince, but you could get salmonella poisoning which does require the use of a throne. Just because toads and frogs have wart-looking bumps does not mean you will get warts if you handle one. What may happen, instead of warts, when you pick up a toad or frog, is that it may end up peeing on you because it is scared.

SPRING THOUGHTS

Here is a quiz for you. What one plant has the following uses: wine, salad, fertilizer, medicinal, nutrient loaded, feed for chickens and food for pollinators? But for some reason this plant will cause people to throw away good money for a losing cause!

A weed by definition is a plant that grows in abundance and in unwanted locations. The yellow-headed dandelion and resulting fluffy, round seed head are all of the above. The only time I remove a dandelion is when it grows in a flower bed.

As you go out and about in your yard, now is the time to inspect for winter damage. Tree and shrub damage is much easier to spot and correct when the leaves are absent. Selective pruning with tools that have been wiped clean with a combination of bleach and water can be done now. Remember, do not prune just for the sake of pruning. If your shrubs bear flowers, you must prune only at certain times of the year. Damage removal, of course, can be done at any time.

Since we live in Temperature Zone 6, we should be able to grow plants that have tolerance for our cold-weather conditions. However, some plants can still receive winter damage. Evergreens are prone to sudden temperature fluctuations. This past winter was a crazy one and damage may have occurred. A sign of winter damage on evergreens is the browning of branches which die. If the damage is slight, cutting out the dead branches may be feasible. Severe damage or die-back will mean the best form of treatment is total removal.

As you know, through the many years I have been writing this column, I have stressed the importance of including native plants in your landscape. These have included trees, shrubs and perennials, but with these plants, you do not have summer-long color.

Annuals, those frost-sensitive plants that grow, bloom and set seed and die all in one season, are the show plants of any garden, flower box or container. But not all annuals are equal in their ability to attract pollinators. Pollinators do not like the flowers that have been bred for show. A good rule of thumb is, if you can’t see the center of the flower because of the petals, chances are pollinators will not be interested.

Follow this link for an excellent publication from Michigan State University that includes annuals popular with pollinators: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/uploads/236/78920/ProtectPollinatorsInLandscape–FINAL-HigherRes.pdf

I have always enjoyed a variety of plants, lawn decorations and unusual items of interest and color in my gardens. I have also included a small fish pond complete with koi and a resident frog. Fish go into a type of hibernation once the water temperatures dip and remain below 40 degrees. Basically the fish stop eating all together. Now that the temperatures have started to climb, the fish are seeking food. Start slow with your feeding schedule, and as long as the water temperature remains below 50 degrees, a diet consisting of a wheat germ food is best and easily digested. After that protein-based food can be introduced and used until fall when temperatures start to drop.

There are two native plant sales coming in May. The Pennsylvania Native Plant Society will hold their annual sale on May 5 at Boalsburg, starting at 10 a.m., and the Clinton County Master Gardeners sale will be May 19 at the Clinton County Fairgrounds. That sale starts at 9 a.m.

There is one new note that I must pass on. I am no longer affiliated with the Master Gardener Program, and any questions that you may have can be sent to qbstocum@gmail.com.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy Gardening!

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