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.
Celebrate National Gardening Month by joining greening efforts in your community. Not only will you feel good, but you'll be helping to fight crime. Texas A&M University found both wealthy and poor neighborhoods with above average greenery suffered fewer crimes than those with fewer plantings. And, don't forget to celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day later this month!
Take care of weeds in your garden before you start planting. Prepare the soil and cover with clear plastic two to three weeks before you start planting. As the soil warms many of the weed seeds begin to grow. Lightly cultivate to remove the sprouted weeds without bringing more weed seeds to the surface.
Gardening Tips for Flowers
Remove forced bulbs from storage. Use some for indoor enjoyment and move a few of the potted bulbs from cold storage directly outdoors to planters, window boxes or in the garden. This is a great way to brighten up drab areas and create a surprise in the spring landscape.
Prepare flower gardens for planting. Check the soil moisture before digging in. Grab a handful of soil and gently squeeze it into a ball. Lightly tap the soil ball. If it breaks into smaller pieces, it's ready to be worked. If it stays in a ball, the soil is too wet to work. Wait a few days and try again.
Once the soil is dry enough, work 2 inches of aged manure, compost, or peat moss into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. The organic matter will improve drainage of heavy clay soils and increase water-holding capacity in sandy soils. Use the soil test information as your guide for adding fertilizer and other soil amendments. Rake the garden smooth, sloping the soil away from the building or center of island beds. Lightly sprinkle with water or wait a week to allow the soil to settle.
Gardening Tips for Edibles
Spring is the time to get busy in the garden. Northern gardeners can plant asparagus roots and rhubarb plants as soon as the soil is workable and plants are available. Dig and divide existing rhubarb plants, or plant rhubarb transplants with the crown buds 2 inches below the soil surface. Space the plants 3 feet apart. Grow in full sun to light shade in well-drained soils. Wait one year to make your first light harvest and two years for the longer larger spring harvest.
Plant dormant bare root fruits, vegetables and herbs in your prepared garden as soon as they arrive. Those plants that started to grow in transit will need a bit more care. Plant these in a container of well-drained potting mix and grow in a well-lit location indoors, in a cold frame or other frost-free location. Transplant them outdoors into the garden once the danger of frost has passed.
Northern gardeners should remove winter mulches on strawberries as the temperatures begin to hover near freezing or when the covered plants begin top growth. Rake the straw into the aisles between plantings. Leave it there to serve as summer mulch, reduce weeds and conserve moisture. Or add the straw to the compost pile and let it decompose for future use in the soil.
Trees, Shrubs and Roses
Avoid pruning trees during leaf expansion when the bark can easily be damaged and during wet weather when disease can be readily spread. It takes several years to get overgrown trees back into shape. Start by removing damaged, crossing, opposite, or rubbing branches. Leave healthy branches with wide crotch angles (where branch joins trunk). Over time develop a strong framework of properly spaced major branches spiraling up the trunk.
Remove any screening, cloth strapping, or winter protection now. Hardware cloth fencing can stay in place. Make sure the material is not rubbing or girdling the plant. Continue monitoring for animal damage and apply repellents, scare tactics or fencing as needed.
The growing and planting season has begun. As the soil thaws and temperatures warm, the nurseries are busy digging, transporting, and selling trees and shrubs. You can start planting as soon as the ground is workable!
Lawns and Groundcovers
Start laying sod as soon as sod is available for sale. Site preparation is the same whether seeding or sodding a lawn. Work several inches of compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Rake smooth so the soil slopes away from the house and is an inch below the adjacent walks and drive.
Use the driveway, walk or curb as your starting point. Lay the first row of sod next to the longest of these straight edges. Butt the sod ends together and stagger seams as if you were laying bricks. Use a knife to trim the sod to fit.
Rake out any dead areas in the grass and be patient. Wait for the surrounding grass to fill in these areas. Consider reseeding larger bare spots and dead patches. You can purchase a lawn patch kit from your local garden center or make your own. Mix a handful of quality grass-seed mix into a bucket of topsoil. Remove the dead grass, roughen the soil surface and spread the seed-soil mixture over the area. Mulch reseeded areas to conserve moisture and water often enough to keep the soil surface moist.
Tips for Indoor Plants
Keep your Easter lily looking good through the holiday and beyond. Place the plant in a cool bright location and keep the soil slightly moist. Place marbles in the bottom of foil wrap, baskets or decorative coverings that lack drainage holes. As you water thoroughly the excess water will drain through the soil, out the bottom of the pot and collect in the bottom of the decorative container. The pot will rest above the water on the marbles, eliminating the risk of root rot. Come back to see my late April tips for suggestions on growing your lily for years to come.
Cat owners should consider alternatives to the traditional lily. Ingestion of small amounts of the plant can be very toxic to cats. Consider a bouquet of flowers, a mum, or a pot of forced crocus or iris.
Finish repotting plants that have outgrown their containers. Large plants that have reached the maximum pot size and have nowhere to go can be top-dressed or root pruned. Topdressing, a short-term solution, is done by carefully removing the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. Replace that removed soil with fresh soil and water it thoroughly.
Root pruning, on the other hand, will give a longer lasting result. It is a bit riskier, but it can be done successfully. Take cuttings from valuable specimens, just in case the process doesn't work. Massage the side of the container and slide the plant out of the pot. Prune off a thin layer of roots around the sides and bottom of the root ball. Repot in the same container using a well-drained potting mix. Make sure the container is clean and free of pests. Then water thoroughly until the excess runs out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Post-transplanting care is critical for the plants success. Move the plant to the best possible location to encourage new root growth.
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