Spring start up continues
You'd never know it was only 35°F at 9 am when we reported to
our Detroit Zoo Adopt a Garden today for this season's third work
day. Despite being bundled in several layers of clothing everyone
was as cheery as for a summer picnic.
What we did:
Looked for weeds in the areas we were about to mulch. We didn't
find many -- our reward for the thorough weeding we gave the beds
Winter weeds like corn speedwell and tall rocket
germinate in late fall and during winter thaws. They are ready to
bloom very early in spring and may scatter seed before the gardener
begins to work. When corn speedwell (tiny scalloped-leaf plants
among the seedling Nigella/love-in-a mist) has a good year,
open ground such as in fallow vegetable beds may be carpeted with
them by spring and whole lawns may develop a blue haze in early
spring as a myriad of miniscule blue flowers open.
Our own desirable perennials can be winter weeds, too.
Blackeye Susan (Rudbeckia) won't bloom so early as the
speedwell or tall rocket but it will be well rooted and tough to
pull by spring.
Spread slow release organic fertilizer in the beds not yet
fertilized. For 100 square feet of bed we used 3 to 4 pounds of a
5-3-3 fertilizer (5% nitrogen, 3% phosphorus, 3% potassium).
Divided and moved bulbs
Dug up the thickest clumps of daffodils, divided and
transplanted them to places where we need more color. Dividing
bulbs during bloom goes against some recommendations but it's
perfect for us because right now we can see which clumps of bulbs
need dividing, we are certain which color and type they are, and we
can see the results immediately.
Yes, bulbs can keep flowering after being divided in bloom. And
they stand up straight, too. There are two key tactics:
1) To insert the shovel deep when we dig them, so
we bring up the whole root mass, and
2) To replant the divisions deeper than they were growing. We bury
not only all the pale parts that were below ground before the
dig-up, but some of the green leaf as well.
Tom Theoret decides which of the daffodils clumps to lift
Sandy Niks divided what Tom presented to her, populating the
winterberry area with miniature daffodils so there will be more
color right where the viewers are this time of year. (Photos
©2013 Darione McNeal.)
Mulched all the areas between perennials, 1-1/2 inches deep with
cocoa hulls. We spread the mulch right over the on top of leaves
and old mulch.
Why cocoa hulls? They're acid in reaction which is a good thing
for this garden where the soil ranged between alkaline 7.4 and very
alkaline 7.8 on the pH scale. They're a slow release source of
nitrogen. They're dark in color and fine in texture so they make a
non-interfering visual background for the plants. They're
lightweight and thus easier to haul all the way to the zoo's
southwest corner. Do they hurt animals who might eat them? We've
had four veterinarians looking for verifiable incidents for nine
years and still not found a one, despite, emailing to the source
"Please put us in touch with the dog's owner or the vet" every time
we are forwarded one of those scare stories.
Cocoa hulls are more expensive than bulk bark products and we
have 5,000 square feet of bed to mulch. So we mulched only the
highest visibility areas with the bagged cocoa hulls. We will
continue mulching next time with another of our
preferred mulches, finely ground bark.
Demonstrated all kinds of bending techniques. One day we'll have
a physical therapist look at our various styles and tell us which
We demonstrate quite the range of moves and dexterity as we
spread our cocoa hull mulch! (Photo ©2013 Darione McNeal.)
Renewed fencing and sculpture
Made and renewed wattle fencing, including
reweaving our wattle sculpture, the "campfire" in the big central
bed in our garden area.
While some volunteers wove new wattle fences, Alex Grady,
Dakarione Talley and Darione McNeal took the faded wattle off our
"campfire" sculpture and recreated it with fresh, brightly colored
Resurrected tender plants
Dug up the fig tree from its underground retreat. It isn't hardy
enough to survive winter above ground in this zone5-6 area but it
can live if it's moved into a root cellar or buried so it's
insulated by soil.
It looks great, just like it did when it went under in fall. We
should have lots of figs this year -- if we can find a way to keep
zoo visitors from eating them first.
Last fall we buried some elephant ear (Colocasia
esculenta) tubers with the fig. The tubers came up from their
winter rest still firm, so we planted them.
Phil Gigliotti brought a fig tree one year and his talk of
picking fresh figs encouraged us to overwinter the tree.
Paul Needle and Carol Ebner joked with him about his
dedication to the cause. (Photos ©2013 Darione McNeal.)
Pruned to thin and to encourage vigorous growth
We pruned the blue spruce (Picea pungens) where last
year's reduction pruning left the south side too dense. Too little
light could penetrate there, but it must do to keep needles growing
in the interior and on the north side.
Janet claimed to be aiming for the yard waste bag but most
of her clippings rained down on Dakarione Talley's head.
(Photo ©2013 Darione McNeal.)
We also pruned back the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus
syriacus) "trees." They now look like trunks with stubby
branches that end in knuckles. A number of branches will sprout
from each knuckle. Each of those will grow 24 inches or more, and
bloom in August.
Priscilla Needle, pruning the Ural false spirea
(Sorbaria sorbifolia) to clip off last year's seed stalks.
More important, she used both sharp spade and clippers to cut back
the suckers running out from the roots. Left to its own devices
this shrub would triple the space it occupies each year and all the
rest of the plants in the bed would be shaded out. We love it for
the white butterfly-attracting plumes it produces in July
(continuing into fall if we keep deadheading it) but we do wish it
wasn't quite so rambuunctious in suckering.
Checked the graft on the living arbor we've made from two
callery pears (Pyrus calleryana) and made additional
Photo ©2013 Phil Gigliotti
Enjoyed each other's company, and the warming day. Everyone was
delighted that a mallard duck decided to nest in our patch of
creeping St. Johnswort (Hypericum calycinum). What brave
creatures ducks are, to hunker down and remain on the nest despite
a hubbub all around.
Can you see the nesting duck? Alex Grady certainly did. He
walked slowly and kept a non-threatening distance to pose with
We hope you get out and enjoy the spring, too. Even if it's