Native Landscapes - Pawling NY

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A Swamp Thing

In March the catkins of Salix discolor are one of the first signs of spring. The catkin is the furry swelled bud of the Pussy Willow. A walk through the swamp in mid-March, the Pussy Willows natural habitat, will reveal this handsome bud. By the end of the month these furry Catkin buds will open and expose tiny yellow flowers. These willow flowers are the first of many spring flowers to nourish the early season pollinating insects, spring has sprung!

After a long winter season plants, insects and animals come alive again as they do each year at this time. Spring seems to begin in the bottom land swamps. Many birds, absent from the landscape in the winter, show up at different intervals throughout the month. The return of the Robin standing erect in the lawn reminds me of a soldier standing guard. The reason for this posture is they are hunting. They are listening and feeling the slightest vibration under foot. Insects and worms are working their way to the surface and their movement attracts the attention of this hungry hunter. Redwing Blackbirds are back and you can’t miss their chatter, especially early in the morning. Bluebirds show up on the post and rail fence at the garden center, busy checking out the nesting boxes. They are making sure the boxes are clean and ready for this year’s family. All birds are singing their spring song. Some of the best bird songs can be heard around sunrise. Here in the northeast we have some of the most beautiful bird songs on the planet.

March is mud season. Melting winter snow and heavy spring rain saturate the soil. Be careful not to start working the soil too early. Be patient and let the warm late March sun dry the soil. By the end of the month the soil should dry out enough for planting peas, radishes and lettuce. We have a wide variety of soils in our region. Many areas are sandy, some are rocky and dry out quickly. Heavy clay soils are found in isolated areas and require more time to dry out. Proper timing can make a big difference between success and failure. When planting the spring vegetable crop, follow nature’s rhythms for optimum plant success.

March is a windy month. The battle between warm tropical air and cold polar air can set up some very powerful late winter and early spring storms. Heavy wet snow and ice storms are common this time of year. It’s important to finish up winter pruning this month so tree and shrub branching can tolerate heavy ice and wet snow loads. Sap flow is running heavy and aggressive pruning of live limbs this time of year can cause plants to bleed. Healthy trees and shrubs can tolerate pruning this time of year and have the ability to seal open wounds quickly. Weak plants may suffer if extended live wood is pruned during heavy sap flow. It’s best to get the opinion of an expert before heavily pruning live branches from trees and shrubs in early spring.

March 11th begins daylight savings time when we move the clocks ahead one hour. March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. We all turn Irish on this Kelly Green holiday. Good luck to those who prefer the traditional corned beef and cabbage diner. On March 2oth the sunrises due east and sets due west, this is the Vernal Equinox or the first day of spring and the first day this year with 12 hours of sunlight. At about the same time the spring peepers are working their way out of the mud, their chores has been caroling in spring for centuries, one of nature’s rhythms that usher in another growing season.