What to do this week: Stay off the lawn and out of the garden as much as possible until the soil has dried out before tackling spring cleanup. When you can walk on the soil without leaving an indentation, start pruning the considerable tree damage from the late-winter storms, or hire someone to do it. Check the website of your municipal department of public works for directions and schedules for yard waste pickups or burning, or consider building a semi-permanent brush pile to provide a home for birds and other critters. (We do this, and then burn it when it gets too big.) Use a springy bamboo-style rake to remove winter debris from lawns and flowerbeds. Also cut off any remaining dry, dead tops of awakening perennials at ground level without clipping new green leaves. Pull back mulch from plant crowns by hand so there is a small ring of bare soil around each plant. Sprinkle a little bulb fertilizer around but not on top of sprouting spring bulbs. Spray tulips with animal repellent if you live in deer country. Don’t worry about the poisonous daffodils.
Q. A tree service removed a tree that was tilting badly after one of the recent storms. There is a lot of lawn damage. Who is responsible for repairs to the lawn?
A. Asking a tree company not to tear up the lawn is like asking a contractor to work gently around existing trees. Lawn damage comes with the territory — and is almost unavoidable with heavy equipment. How do you defend your lawn? Have emergency tree work done while there is still a layer of snow on the ground to protect the soil, if possible. Or wait until the ground has dried out hard as a rock and the grass has gone dormant in summer before you invite these guys onto your turf, literally. You can also ask them to put down plywood to minimize tire damage before they start working. Some will. Some won’t. But after the fact, you are stuck repairing the damage yourself.
Q. We lost a large pitch pine in the recent storms. Our small property consists mainly of these pitch pines, and I expect to lose more to bad weather or disease. What native trees should we consider planting in our very sandy soil? We are elevated enough that coastal flooding is not an issue.
A. Trees are more apt to uproot in sandy soil. Native oaks and pines are traditional choices in part because they have strong anchoring roots. Eastern red cedar, arborvitae, and our native holly tree (Ilex opaca), are narrow-growing native evergreens that also do well near the ocean and can eventually reach 30 feet. Look to local nurseries to identify what is already growing there, and order more of the same. Native species are becoming much more available because of requests from people like you, and can even be special-ordered. They are always the best choice for bird life. Sandy soil does not hold moisture or nutrients well, so mulching heavily between new trees is important to mitigate these problems.
Q. Gypsy moths have succeeded in killing our oaks and even many white pines. Should I replace them with more oaks and white pine or plant other trees? I want to do what is best for the native pollinators and birds.
M.C. South County, R.I.
A. Don’t plant more of what the gypsy moths have already eaten. They favor many deciduous hardwoods, so don’t plant oaks, maples, willows, birches, alders, or fruit trees. Gypsy moths are not so crazy about most evergreens and appear to dislike dogwoods, black walnuts, and sycamores, but when the population explodes and trees are dripping with these hairy caterpillars, they will eat anything that can’t run away from them.