But spring will come and many of the gardeners and lawn owners will be eager to get out and work in the yard, or as I like to say, “play in the dirt.” (I have long felt these activities can save a lot of visits to a psychiatrist.) Especially those who took my advice last fall to procrastinate in the cleanup of garden beds and under the shrubbery will have plenty to do and to enjoy.
When you start cleaning up the gardens and lawn, take time to observe what has been going on under those leaves and dried-up plants. See the holes in the dirt as beneficial insects come out of their underground hibernation. Note the larva and chrysalises of this year’s butterflies and moths clinging to the old stalks. Observe how the winter’s browns become the spring’s greens and brighter colors in the early flowers.
If you don’t currently have compost piles or bins, now would be a good time to start one or more. The organic matter which protected the wintering plants and animals can now be composted into great additions to the soil and free mulch for around the bases of shrubs and other plants. Try to keep the weed seeds out of the compost piles, since in Wisconsin, compost piles rarely get hot enough to kill those seeds and your mulch may spread weeds rather than minimize them.
If you buy new plants or seed, locally or from those very enticing catalogs, check if they have been treated with neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide which has been increasingly connected with honey bee die-off and attacks on our native bee populations. A possible change of vendor should be considered.
Lawns should be tested before any additional fertilizer is applied, but this is seldom done. Most applications are excessive and end up fertilizing our lakes, rivers and streams. The first of August marks the fifth anniversary of the time when Toledo, Ohio, had to shut down its entire water system for four days because of toxic “algae” which took over that end of Lake Erie. This was due mostly to agricultural run-off, because phosphorus had been removed from most lawn fertilizers after a smaller water system had similarly been shut down a few years before. Some of our youth and their leaders will be traveling this summer to Toledo and may be able to see the problems that smaller Great Lake is already experiencing.
The ways we take care of our lawns and gardens have environmental consequences far beyond the depth of the green, the brightness of the flowers and the freshness of the produce. Good environmental stewardship means we seriously consider these consequences.