New England

April, 2004
Regional Report

Have Soil Tested

It's a good idea to test your soil every few years to determine its nutrient status and pH (acidity/alkalinity). Your state cooperative extension service can provide a reasonably priced test, and along with the results you'll get recommendations for improving the soil. The proper soil pH is especially important for plant health.

Build a Trellis

Consider "growing up" this season. While you're itching to get into the too-wet garden, buy or build a trellis. Frame your front door with a flower-laden arbor to greet visitors. Annual vines, such as morning glory, are fast growing and provide abundant flowers from midsummer until frost. While you're at it, add a trellis to the vegetable garden for pole beans and cucumbers, and to the flower garden for annual flowering vines. Clematis and climbing roses make a lovely pairing on a sturdy trellis.

Clean Up Garden Beds

Start raking out annual and perennial beds, gently removing heavy accumulations of wet leaves. You can leave some lighter, fluffier debris -- it will break down and add nutrients to the soil. But compacted leaves can smother new growth. Also, cut back last year's perennials to within a few inches of the soil. Besides being helpful to plants, it's very rewarding to see the new growth emerging after a long winter.

Divide Rhubarb

If your rhubarb plants seem crowded, divide them as soon as the ground thaws. Choose a cloudy, cool day, dig up the whole crown, and break off the young side shoots, trying to keep as many roots intact as possible. Transplant the mother plant back in the original hole amended with a shovelful of compost, and plant the babies in a full sun location. Harvest the young plants lightly, if at all, the first year.

Start a Butterfly Garden

Plant a mix of butterfly-friendly, nectar-rich, annual flowers this year, including lantana, scabiosa, verbena, asters, nicotiana, calendulas, zinnias, and salvia. Add some dill and parsley plants as food for swallowtail larvae. Minimize use of pesticides that can harm caterpillars. Remember that even the organic insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis will kill butterfly larvae along with pests such as cabbage loopers.

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