Think of our lousy spring as a reprieve for gardeners

By 
Erin Schanen

Writing about the weather is the lowest hanging fruit for a garden columnist, particularly in a state where the topic is the only appropriate way to start a conversation with a stranger.

But ignoring the “spring” we’ve been enduring is a bit like pretending there’s not an elephant standing in the room. Television meteorologists keep reminding us that records show that this spring isn’t really all that cold and miserable; 2018, for instance, was much worse.

I can’t remember the weather in the spring of 2018 but photos on my phone tell me even then we were farther ahead in terms of blooms than we are this year. Still, complaining about the weather never made the sun shine, so I’m going to take inspiration from an obnoxiously cheery poster such as you might find in a dentist’s office and offer a few benefits I’ve discovered about our cold spring.

Gardeners are a breed of hobbyists that is perpetually behind schedule, particularly in an area like ours with a short season, so the extended cold season has some real advantages. Last weekend I planted onions, peas, lettuce and kale and felt quite proud. Any other year I’d kicked myself for missing some growing time on those cool-season crops, but I was absolved this year.

My personal deadline for potting dahlia tubers is usually April 15. I like to pot my tubers up to get them started, which I find makes it easier to fit them among other plants without worrying about them being crowded out and make them produce blooms sooner. I’m still finishing potting mine and I’m not all that worried about it.

Garden cleanup? Only about half finished and not feeling a lot of pressure about it, especially since I now define “clean up” in a much more casual way.

The cool weather has also kept some of the weeds at bay, which at least gives me a chance to get caught up on the ones that have shown themselves — garlic mustard and creeping Charlie, mostly — before I have to start battling chickweed and the other early season invaders.

We haven’t even had to think about mowing the lawn yet, which should help stem the flow of angry mail resulting from last week’s anti-No Mow May column.

It’s hard to talk yourself into gardening when the sun’s not shining and the wind is blowing, but I’m increasingly appreciative of the two containers I planted for spring. I used half a tray of pansies, some fantail willow leftover from the winter containers and lettuce I grew from seed. With this cold spring, that $9 I spent on that container is looking like a great deal.

Overall this cool spring almost feels like a little bit of extra time. If it weren’t for that nagging feeling that when the weather changes all this procrastination — forced or not —will come back to haunt me, I’d actually  consider getting on board with lousy spring weather.

So instead of grousing about the weather, which is a skill that Wisconsinites and gardeners in general have perfected, perhaps there’s some good to be found. And that’s worth using up my one weather-related gardening column I’m alloted per year.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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