University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article

Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Feeding hummingbirds, handling large containers, and using row covers are some of the gardening tips for this month.

If you have a very large container, such as a half barrel, you don't need to fill it totally with soil. A depth of one foot is enough for most container plants. Set plastic pots upside-down in the bottom of the barrel, then cover them with a false bottom of thin plywood or another sturdy material. Then you just need to fill the top half with soil.

We've also used Styrofoam peanuts to take up space, but invariably they mix with the soil and it gets messy when you try to clean out the container and add fresh soil the following year.  Another option is to fill around the upturned pots with an inexpensive organic material such as bark mulch, sawdust, or wood chips.

To reduce watering, incorporate water-absorbing crystals into the potting mix when you plant. It's hard to add them afterwards.  They are especially useful for hanging baskets lined with coir (the fibrous mat made from coconut husks).  Since clay pots dry out faster than plastic, use plastic pots set inside clay pots to help hold in moisture. Grouping pots together also will help reduce moisture loss.

Use clay or metal "plant feet" underneath large containers to help with drainage and to keep pots from staining wood decks and steps. For heavy indoor plants that you summer outdoors, use plant trivets with four casters to make transporting them less backbreaking.  There is even a strap you can purchase for large pots that makes lifting by two people much easier.

Use row covers to protect seedbeds from marauding birds. Once the seedlings are two or three inches tall, it's probably safe to remove the covers. Or you can keep them in place for awhile to exclude pests and remove them once plants begin to flower so pollinators can do their jobs.

Put up hummingbird feeders early in May, as that is when these small birds usually return and can use good nutrition after their long migration northward from Central America.  To make your own hummingbird food, use one part sugar to four parts water.  Heat until the sugar dissolves, then let cool before filling your feeders.  Don’t add food coloring or any other sweetener. Replace the liquid at least every week, more in warmer summer weather. You can track online just where hummingbirds are in their migration (

Even if you put up hummingbird feeders, also plant some of their favorite flowers, such as fuchsias, salvias, columbines, nicotiana (flowering tobacco), trumpet vine, bleeding hearts, foxgloves, and others that have trumpet-shaped blooms. They are attracted to the color red, but they visit flowers of other colors, too, as long as they are the right shape.

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