Well, that was quite an impressive winter we had! Coming up short on rains, leaving the land thirsty, presents us with great challenges as we strive to keep our gardens green and blooming.
Of course, these challenges are not new to us, here in the land of perennial drought. This spring, we have more future considerations to throw into the challenge ring as we approach shmita, the year of earthly rest in the Land of Israel, as prescribed in our most ancient, revered and reprinted book – so we take it pretty seriously.
Here’s the game plan: Clean up and clear out from winter, spring into the “now” of spring, get immediate preparation for summer underway, all the while preparing for the magical land rest.
Clean-up is pretty easy – well, straightforward, anyway. Dead branches, weeds, broken pottery: get it all out. Show no mercy! Get out your pruners and trim any dead, black branches. Pull weeds. Pull more.
Investigate while you are pruning. Look for creepy crawlies, winged things, trails left by trailblazing bugs and slugs. You are taking over and you are proactive, with emphasis on active.
Next, assess the state of your garden. Where do you need to thin out and where do you need to fill in? Consider the peculiar winter past, with limited rain and upcoming charges for water.
Accuweather predicts consistent high temperatures of 28º to 31º from May through October in Jerusalem, indicating a long, hot summer.
With that in mind, plants with low water requirements are recommended.
Cacti and plants with thick, waxy leaves or thin, silvery leaves don’t demand lots of water.
When positioning cacti, give succulents space to grow and from which to grab their water; positioned near less heat-adapted plants, they will efficiently suck up water. Intense, dry-heat survivors, as clever storers of moisture, cacti are tough, aggressive and smart. Use wisely.
Other plants to consider are lavender, geranium, salvia, most varieties of tall grasses, statice, portulaca, yarrow, echinacea or purple cornflower, zinnias, vinca and many more.
Presumably you have a drip irrigation system installed; if not, you really ought to consider putting one in. Part of your spring clean-up and assessment must include inspection of your irrigation system. Turn the water on and check it. There may be clogged drippers or areas that require more (or fewer) drippers. Wooden skewers make good markers; just place them wherever you need to fix or upgrade.
If you’re really want to be water-smart and save on your labor output, invest in black garden jute, bad pelareeg in Hebrew. This fabric is water-permeable from both sides, over and under. It is inexpensive and you will get your investment back quickly with what you save on water.
Water that drips under the fabric is protected from evaporation, while any top water applied through spraying will soak through the fabric into the soil. The jute also provides an unfriendly environment for weeds.
Before applying the fabric, till the soil gently with one of those clawtype soil forks, working fertilizer into the ground. Lay fabric down, maneuvering around plants. Make holes in the fabric by cutting an x-shape with a utility knife, and carefully drape the fabric over the plants. Cover the fabric with volcanic rock to intensify the moisture retention and weed repulsion, and frankly, improve the appearance.
Now you are ready for any summer planting. Bugs and other thugs abound now. Bees and butterflies are great. Be smart, don’t bother the bees and let them do their work. Wear gloves and protective clothing on your feet and legs (against snakes and scorpions), and you won’t have problems with nature. There are many simple and excellent methods of pest control that don’t require harsh chemicals, so stay away from “better living through chemistry” products, please.
Finally, the shmita preparation: Your garden is going on vacation. A long, restful vacation. Compost generously and often, starting now.
Fertilize. My nursery guy laughed when I asked about year-long, time-release fertilizer. He had inquired just the day before. Time-release pellet fertilizer should be available in June, which is very good news for the Jews.
Take care of your garden now, and enjoy the fruits of your labor far beyond the next month. Happy gardening! The writer is a graphic designer at the Post, and an avid gardener.The writer is a graphic designer at the Post, and an avid gardener.