Spring Garden Tips

Melinda's Gardening Tips for Early February

Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.


The planting wish list always seems longer than the available planting space! Put your plans on paper now to avoid over buying this spring. Try placing plants in odd numbered groupings such as 3 or 5 for a more informal appearance. Individual specimens work if you repeat colors and texture through the planting bed.

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Growing Green

Save money and the environment by using recycled items for starting seeds indoors. Yogurt cups, fast food salad containers, and other items work great. Just punch holes in the bottom for drainage. Or put your origami skills to work by folding old newspapers into biodegradable pots. Avid gardeners can clean out used pots and cell packs with a one part bleach and nine parts water solution before putting them back to work this season.

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Gardening Tips for Flowers

Check seedlings started indoors. Keep soil moist, but not wet. Watch for signs of damping off. This fungal disease causes infected seedlings to suddenly topple and die. Remove infected plants and apply a fungicide labeled for this use to infected plantings. Next year, be sure to disinfect used containers with a one part bleach and nine parts water solution before use. Fill containers with a sterile seed starting or well-drained potting mix. Plant seeds as directed and keep the soil warm and moist until the seedlings appear. Then add light. Move to a sunny window or better yet grow under artificial lights.

Transplant seedlings from flats into individual containers as soon as the first set of true leaves appear. Adjust your watering schedule to fit plant needs. Continue to keep the soil moist, but not wet.

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Gardening Tips for Edibles

Tomatoes are susceptible to many diseases that can threaten the health and harvest of your crop. Many hybrid tomatoes are bred for resistance to several tomato disorders. The code to a tomato's disease resistance can usually be found on the label or seed packet after the variety name.

A – Alternaria stem canker
F – Fusarium wilt
N – Nematodes
St – Stemphylium grey leaf spot
T or TMV – Tobacco Mosaic Virus
V – Verticillium wilt
TSWV – Tomato spotted wilt virus

So 'Quick Pick' VFNTA is not only a tasty tomato, it is also resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, Nematodes, Tobacco mosaic virus and Alternaria stem canker.

Don't forget to also look for these letters, AAS, as well. They stand for All-America Selections. AAS winners have been evaluated in trial and display gardens throughout the country and have been proven to perform well under all types of growing conditions in the home garden.

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Trees, Shrubs and Roses

Late winter is an excellent time to prune most deciduous trees and summer blooming shrubs. Proper pruning involves selecting the appropriate branches to remove and making proper cuts. Improper cuts create perfect entryways for insects and disease. Make the pruning cut flush with the branch bark collar, the swollen area where the stem meets the trunk. Leaving the donut shaped branch bark collar allows the pruning wound to close quickly. Pruning cuts flush with the trunk are slow to close and lead to problems. Stubs left (beyond the branch bark collar) behind look unsightly and create the perfect entryway for insects and disease.

Use the double-cut method when pruning larger branches (2 inches in diameter or greater). This prevents branch splitting or bark tearing. Make the first cut on the bottom of the branch about 12 inches from the final cut. Use a pruning saw and cut about ¼ of the way through the branch. Make the second cut on the top of the branch within 1 inch of the first cut. Continue cutting until the branch breaks off. The final cut should be flush with the branch bark collar. Do not apply pruning paints or wound dressings to pruning cuts. Research shows that these materials actually trap moisture and disease in rather that keeping them out.

Consider hiring a certified arborist for larger jobs. They have the tools, equipment and training to do the job safely. Check out my How to Hire a Professional page for more information.

Check on any container plantings of roses, trees or shrubs wintering outdoors or in an unheated garage or shed for winter. Water whenever the soil is thawed and dry. Add some extra insulation such as packing peanuts or other material (I'm sure you can find something in the garage) for added protection if more severe weather is predicted for your region.

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Lawns and Groundcovers

Do you plan on expanding any planting beds this season? The sod removed (with a sod cutter) to create these beds can be used to repair problem areas in other parts of the lawn. Look at the season ahead. Tentatively plan a block of time when you can do both tasks.

As the snow recedes from the lawn, break out the leaf rake and fluff up the grass. This will help reduce the risk of pink and gray snow mold developing and damaging your lawn. These fungal diseases are most common when heavy snow falls or ice covers non-frozen turf or after late winter snow storms. The damage is usually seen where snow lingers late in the season. Symptoms appear as circular areas of matted brown grass. You may even see a gray or pink cobweb-like growth over these areas. A light raking dries the grass, making it less susceptible to these diseases.

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Tips for Indoor Plants

Now is a great time to force paper-whites to bloom indoors. Purchase your paperwhites at your local garden center or from your favorite catalog. Fill a shallow container with sterile pea gravel, pebbles, or marbles. Add enough water to reach the top of the gravel. Place the bulbs on the gravel and cover with just enough gravel to hold them in place. You can also plant them in a container filled with any well-drained potting mix. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed. Keep the planting mix moist, but not wet. Move the potted bulbs to a cool (34-60 degrees Fahrenheit) location for rooting. Then place them in a bright location as soon as the leaves start to grow. It takes a few weeks to get flowers and the unforgettable fragrance. This is a great project for kids or any anxious gardener!

Remove faded flowers, brown leaves, and pests from holiday and houseplants. The end of the month is a good time to prune hibiscus. Cut stems above a healthy bud or leaf, where one branch joins another, or back to the main stem. Remove crossed, inward growing, and damaged branches first. Next, thin out the branches and shape. Remove only one-third of the plant.

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