Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

April brings anticipation, impatience

Going Nature's Way


Anticipation and impatience are two emotions that inhabit the hearts of Minnesotans in April. One could even suggest the first of the month was given its title for all of us who are fooled over and over again by Mother Nature. It is even more pronounced for those of us who live in the northern half of the state.

As soon as the snow has melted and we have a few extra warm days, the urge to attack the gardens grows steadily. The obvious increased warmth and proximity of the sun doesn’t help. We look at the exposed garden beds and just KNOW there are bulbs waiting to pop up, if we’d just remove some of the vegetation over them. But then, the next day it snows or drops well below freezing and we realize our folly. It doesn’t matter how many years you have lived here; it is a compulsion that grips every gardener every year.

It doesn’t help either to go to the annual gardening event held in each county around this time, but that is what I did on the past weekend with some of my neighbors. The Pine County Master Gardeners hold their annual Horticulture Day in Pine City and I always encounter people I haven’t seen since the one held the previous year. We chat and try to catch up, while vendors entice us with garden tools, natural fertilizers and seedlings. I was especially disappointed this year to learn the woman who sold iris and lily bulbs closed her business. I always anticipate buying some beautiful new varieties to add to my growing collection.

This year the keynote speaker was Dr. Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota who has been studying monarch butterflies for over 30 years. These beautiful but threatened insects are just now leaving the mountain forests in Mexico to begin the long trek north. These are the same butterflies that left us last summer and managed to survive the trip and winter in Mexico. They will mate and lay their eggs in Texas and the next generation will continue northward.

So many of us are concerned about the future of these butterflies and their incomparable migration. It is the only one of its kind in the world of butterflies, so while the insects themselves could continue to exist in places further south, they could eventually stop making it to Minnesota. I don’t like to think about kids growing up here without ever witnessing these magnificent orange and black bits of winged ephemera.

Dr. Oberhauser encouraged all of us to put butterfly friendly plants in our yards and gardens — milkweed (there are several varieties) for their eggs and caterpillars to feed on, and nectar producing flowers for the adult monarch. Blazing Star (liatrus) is probably the very best nectaring flower you can have, but there are many others.

The greatest loss of milkweed has occurred in our agricultural fields since Roundup ready corn and soybeans have taken over. Now herbicides and pesticides can be sprayed on these plants and only the weeds (milkweed) and any insects found there are killed. Somehow this doesn’t seem like progress to me, though I’m sure many farmers would disagree.

But back to our dilemma of wanting to plant in this most variable of weather months. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, those of us living 100 miles north of the Twin Cities metro should wait until about the third week of April to remove winter mulch on our gardens. You can always lift it up to check on new growth and remove it if you are concerned about mold growing, but keep the mulch nearby since you may have to put it back on if freezing temperatures return.

In order to resist those urges on warm, tempting days, I suggest you take a glass of iced tea, sit on your deck, close your eyes and imagine all the flowers and leaves that will fill your gardens and yard in another month. Oh, and bring a nursery catalog to peruse while you absorb the welcoming warmth of the sun.


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