May – Diligence is the word!

“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.” Geoffrey Charlesworth

Have you lately seen your resident woodchuck? The rapacious varmints have made their spring debut, and their banquet table is laden with tender apple-green shoots of hosta and tall foliage of day lilies.

Yesterday I led a merry chase after our resident woodchuck, a particularly portly fellow, who disappeared quickly in one of his tunnels underneath the forsythia. Will he surface when I am no longer around – you bet!

One way to discourage them from gnawing your prize-winning plants to stumps is to liberally apply the appropriate spray and keep applying faithfully. Liquid Fence or Bobbex work well, among others. Their pungent smell, when mixed from concentrate, evaporates quickly. Woodchucks, rabbits and deer respect the sprayed area and find their smorgasbord farther down the line

I am not ready yet to succumb to the growing deer pressure in our area, so I keep planting and nurturing flowers and shrubs attractive to Bambi.

Fencing in our property would be one option I don’t want to entertain — not yet, anyway. But I have learned that spraying helps to deter the onslaught. Some of my friends concoct their own brew (two eggs, two teaspoons of cayenne pepper, finely chopped garlic and two quarts of water), let it sit overnight, strain through cheesecloth and then spray the mixture around their garden. It seems to work. Bon appétit!

Now that we are enjoying our 70-degree days (at least once in a while), the weeds seem to enjoy them as well. Strolling around the garden in the early morning, I keep tabs of the invasion of chickweed in the lawn, on the path and the riot of healthy dandelion in nooks and crannies.

Later, armed with a small shovel, I go to work to face down the chickweed and start digging. When pangs of pain shoot through my back, I know it’s time to quit. Could I apply chemicals to get rid of these weeds? Of course I could. But there is something very therapeutic about working so close to the earth and taking pride in the fruit of my labor.

Spring is a race against time — diligence and vigilance are needed to stay on top of all the bounty that is unfolding around us. Weeding that needs to be restarted almost as soon as it is completed, is de rigueur. Grass stains on your khaki pants are badges of honor.

It is time to plant your garden when your soil is ready. Grab a handful of garden dirt, do the crumble and sniff test: it should smell clean and sweet. If dirt forms an oozing ball, it is too wet to work, but if it adheres and then crumbles, its time to get busy.

Of course, as a good gardener, you already have supplemented your soil with composted manure, leaf compost and a dusting of lime. Keep in mind “crop rotation,” exchanging nutrient-depleting plants like tomatoes for other plants that collect and fix nitrogen in the soil.

Last year I planted a Ramapo tomato plant among my flowers in our raised 200-

square-foot patio bed. It was a joy to watch and then harvest over 40 great tomatoes. This year I have to find a different spot for the seedlings grown from last year’s crop. I frequently intermingle veggies with flowers; Swiss chard Bright Eyes with its beautiful orange stem makes a great backdrop for a gaillardia, the interesting veined leaves of sorrel stand at attention, and parsley, sage

and chives mingle happily with blue forgetme not.

Some mouth-watering Heuchera are on the market to add to your garden excitement:

Heuchera Marmalade — with orange amber foliage, pink undersides and very sun tolerant.

Heuchera Obsidian — dark black purple shiny foliage.

Heuchera Rave On — Green leaves with a silver overlay, waves of deep pink flowers in spring.

Heuchera Southern Comfort — Wow, large cinnamon-peach leaves with hints of copper and amber, certain to warm one up on a cool summer eve.

To do now:

Prune spring-flowering shrubs as soon as flowering is finished.

Foliage of daffodils may look quite ragged now. Don’t remove green foliage until is has browned and withered.

During mid-May it is safe to plant annuals and tender bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and corms. Wait a few more weeks until soil is warm enough for tomatoes, peppers, dahlias and canna.

When you transplant seedlings, do it on a cloudy, overcast day.

Direct-sow a wide array for colorful spring crops: Nasturtium in different new color combinations, colored carrots in lots of hues, new varieties of baby lettuce, and some exceptionally disease-resistant American baby spinach. Happy planting!

Gotti Kelley, past president of the Navesink Garden Club, serves on the board of the Garden Club of New Jersey.