Vigilance is key. Gloves, trowel and a paper bag are the tools. Be on the watch this time of the year and spot them when they’re young. Slow and steady, scooping up gently, without touching bare skin … got it! Get it? It’s poison oak seedling removal — essential to keep our house safe.poison oak leaves

Gardening is a balance of encouraging a diversity of species which add beauty and color to the living space, and weeding out undesirables.

Now is a great time to invest time and energy in the garden, while the ground is moist and before unwanted plants and seeds develop.

While gardening, you can hone observation and plant identification skills. The garden may be tended to cultivate native plants, eliminate introduced invasive species, and create wildlife habitat.

• Native plants. What scat in the yard? Many native plants arrive in our garden from wild animals that enjoyed local fruits and seeds and deposited via animal waste.

Wethimbleberries enthusiastically encourage the spread of many of these natives. Tall stalks of thimbleberry have created a thicket alongside the house under the shade of the maple. Fragrant mugwort with its three-forked leaves grows along a seasonal creek bed. Delicate bleeding hearts — with pink flowers that look like Valentines earrings — cover the ground under the apple tree.

Long creeping vines of minty fresh yerba buena grow over moss and rocks by the front fence. Hedge nettle with its stacked pink flowers pops up all over the yard this time of the year. Bursts of California poppies spread fast in open, sunny spaces.

periwinkle• Eliminate invasives. Then there are the unwelcome species; ones that take over if left unchecked. We do not tolerate ivy — seen too many trees strangled. Purple-flower periwinkle (genus Vinca, also known as myrtle) is too aggressive and will cover a patch of ground with its tangled vines. Forget-me-nots add a baby blue blanket to corners of the yard but we pull them out before the sticky seeds cling to everything and spread. A new invasive to remove — only introduced last year but spreading fast — is gopher spurge. The Himalayan blackberry is another to cut way back.

coast garder snake• Create wildlife habitat. Bugs and lizards, salamanders and snakes are more than welcome in our garden. Rocks and logs set into the landscaping are nooks and crannies for wildlife shelter. Old baskets, wooden boxes, and broken pottery add dimensions and character; they highlight plants, and provide places for critters to hide. Home-made bird baths and bird houses show off the kids’ skills and what we value as a family.

Stay wild!