Snippets - March 25 2015
This is the time to start the seeds of frost-tender plants. You need extra light (an economical option to start out is a growlight bulb that will screw in to an ordinary light fixture, available from Lee Valley Tools) and a fan to maintain air circulation and guard against dampening off. My favourite tomato is Stupice – early, medium sized, and flavourful, so I start that from seed and try out a couple of others as I come across the plants in nurseries. I always start basil at the same time. Peppers and eggplant are also started six to eight weeks before last frost (May 25 in our area), lettuce and spinach four to six weeks ahead; pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon and squash three to four weeks. Consult the seed package for other crops.

Consider a shrubbery. A planting of shrubs offers flowers in spring, nesting habitat and shelter for birds, insects and other creatures and berries for wildlife in fall. Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) offers the added bonus of bright red twigs that look great against snow. Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has dramatic pink rose-like flowers and fragrant foliage. For moist conditions, Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) has white or pink fluffy flower clusters in late summer to fall. Mulch your shrubbery well and you won't need to worry about weeds.

Easy with the rake. Watch how returning bird migrants pick though your leaf and plant litter. They're sifting out every scrap of protein (in the form of insect eggs or overwintering creatures) at a time when pickings are slim. Leave this natural cover, and consider adding to it, your trees, shrubs and perennials need a mulch to protect them against temperature fluctuations and conserve moisture. However, cleanup is necessary around apple trees and in the veggie patch where the overwinterers aren't necessarily welcome, and fresh replacement mulch should be brought in at planting time.

Easy with the clippers. If you left the stalks on your perennials to provide winter interest, don't clip them back now – the hollow stems are nesting sites for native bees and wasps that pollinate your plants and help control pests. The perennials' foliage will grow up to conceal last year's stalks.