This weekend is the start of gardening season in Maine. It’s Patriots Day, and time to plant carrots, lettuce, beets, peas, onion sets and maybe potatoes. You can also plant hardy perennials and shrubs.
March 20 may mean spring in other parts of the country, but in Maine this weekend is when spring really hits.
This year we need it more than ever. The winter was so awful that even doing spring raking while half the yard was covered with snow was enjoyable – and I usually hate raking.
This will be a busy gardening summer for us. First, our home will be part of a garden tour to benefit the arboretum at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. When we were part of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Locavore Day two years ago, it seemed like we spent every spare minute we had that summer primping the garden. Because we love Fort Williams, approve of the attempt to remove invasive plants from the park, like the first garden created as part of the arboretum and actually like having people see our garden, we agreed.
At least this tour is June 28, more than a month earlier than Locavore Day was, so we can kick back during the rest of summer.
But the lawn will have to look better. Last year, I began using corn meal gluten to control weeds, but my timing was a little late. The gluten should be applied while the forsythia is in bloom – and that should be about when this column will appear. The bag of gluten is in the garage as I write this, waiting for southern Maine gardens break out in gold.
Last year, we also began moving our high-bush blueberries from the backyard, where they are being shaded by a neighbor’s Norway maples, to a sunnier location in the vegetable garden. We will move the rest this year – once we’re sure that the bushes we moved last September survived the winter. We have to decide what shade-tolerant plants will replace the blueberries. This is a great opportunity, because after almost 40 years in the same house, with most of the gardens jammed full, we have few opportunities to bring in new plants.
Except maybe for daylilies. For about a decade we have grown ornamental grasses next to our patio – but a couple of years ago we decided we want more color. We will be getting some Barth Daylilies from O’Donal’s in Gorham. My wife, Nancy, has ordered some good ones online from Fedco in central Maine, and we will be searching for more whenever we go to a garden center.
Another backyard project involves the traffic pattern. The most convenient way to get to the backyard now is through the garage – which isn’t always neat, and even when it is, is crowded. Unlike many other people, we actually keep vehicles in our garage. We are planning to create a backyard entryway at the north side of the house – not a gate, just a narrowing with a path, so it looks like an entrance to what is a separate garden “room” (landscapers use the word “room” to describe divisions in gardens, say the vegetable garden as one “room,” the outdoor kitchen as another). We need at least two shade-tolerant and striking shrubs – one for each side of the entryway. Another chance to buy new plants.
We will also expand the asparagus bed. We planted our asparagus in about 1980, and production has declined for the past few years – with gaps in the row where some of plants died. We needed about 10 plants to fill in the row, but Fedco sells the roots in packages of 25 – so a bigger bed is in the works. We won’t be able to cut asparagus from the new plants until 2017. Asparagus is my favorite vegetable, so we can always use more, but even well-grown asparagus roots take time to establish themselves in gardens.
I got some Maine Blue Bombs from the McLaughlin Garden’s booth at the Portland flower show, but I won’t plant them until fall. The Blue Bombs, lupine seeds in balls, created with clay and McLaughlin Garden compost, would have to have been kept in the refrigerator for six weeks if I’d wanted the seeds to spread this year. The Blue Bombs were created by the Foothills Garden Club as a fundraiser for McLaughlin programs.
Other than the asparagus, not much will change in the vegetable garden. I will continue my eternal quest for more bountiful baby carrots – but I think I just have to do a better job of thinning out the plants once they have sprouted. And we are trying some new varieties of squash and watermelon.
We haven’t chosen our tomato and pepper varieties yet. We’ll do that when we go to the farmers market and see what they have available.
It’s a chance to do more plant shopping, and that’s a chance I’ll never pass up.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. Contact him at 767-2297 or at [email protected]