Spring Garden Tips

Melinda's Gardening Tips for Late March

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.


As the snow melts, start cleaning up and preparing the garden for planting. Take advantage of warmer temperatures to get started. The soil can be worked any time it is not frozen and is only slightly moist. Check soil moisture by taking a handful of soil and gently squeezing it into a ball. Tap the ball with your finger. If it breaks apart, it is ready to work. Otherwise, wait a few days for the soil to dry. Working wet soil results in damage that takes years to repair.

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Growing Green

Recycle branches and twigs removed during routine pruning. Stout stems can be used as fence posts while smaller more flexible stems can be used woven in and out of the upright posts to form wattle fences.

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Gardening Tips for Flowers

Wait until temperatures consistently hover near freezing before removing winter mulch. Remove the mulch when plants are starting to grow. Keep some handy to protect the tender tips of early sprouting hostas, primroses and other early sprouters that may be damaged by a sudden drop in temperature.

Take a soil test of new garden areas as soon as the ground thaws. Retest the soil in established gardens every three to five years or when problems develop.

As you begin or continue cleaning up the garden, cut back stems and seedpods left for winter interest. Remove dead foliage and stems of all perennials. Be careful not to damage the leaves of early emerging perennials during the cleanup process. Cut back ornamental grasses before new growth begins.

Hardy bulbs need little fertilization. Fertilize now through April if you want to increase vigor and if you did not fertilize in the fall. For best results, apply a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer to bulbs as they begin to sprout outdoors.

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Gardening Tips for Edibles

Rotate crops to reduce the buildup and risk of disease and insects. Move tomatoes and their relatives, such as peppers and eggplants, to an area where you grew cabbage last year. Move the cabbage and its relatives to the area where you had beans last year. Since I have very little space, I move my tomatoes to opposite ends of the garden each year. Do the best you can.

Grow plants in blocks or wide rows instead of single rows. Blocks can be several feet wide. Make sure you can easily reach all the plants for maintenance and harvest. Space plants just far enough apart to allow for the mature plant size. Make the aisles wide enough for you to work the surrounding rows.

After planting, mulch the soil with pine needles, grass clippings (herbicide free), straw or other organic material. A 2-3 inch layer will help conserve moisture, reduce weeds and keep soil-borne fungi away from the plants. Till the mulch into the soil each fall to improve drainage in clay soils and water-holding capacity in sandy soils.

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Trees, Shrubs and Roses

Keep mulch, shelters and rose cones in place until weather begins to consistently hover near freezing. Vent rose cones on warm or sunny days. The goal is to keep the roses cool and dormant. High temperatures can cause premature growth that can be killed by cold temperatures in spring. Close vents when temperatures drop. Remove cones and the outer layer of mulch after a week of temperatures above freezing, but keep the cones handy in case of an extreme drop in temperatures.

Prune summer and fall blooming shrubs now. Late winter pruning will not interfere with summer flowering and allows the plants to recover quickly. Start by removing damaged, broken and diseased stems. Disinfect tools between cuts to prevent the spread of disease. Rubbing alcohol or a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water will work too. Clean your tools after pruning to minimize the adverse effects of bleach.

Remove and destroy Eastern tent caterpillar egg masses on flowering plums and cherries. The eggs are dark and shiny and appear to be cemented on the branch.

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Lawns and Groundcovers

Cut back the dead tips of candytuft and creeping thyme. Cut them back even further in late spring if the plants become leggy. Remove dead foliage on lamb's ear. The old leaves tend to mat down over winter and will lead to rot if not removed.

It's not just for luck. Clover can improve the health of the soil. Clover seed used to be a part of grass seed mixes. The clover helps fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and incorporate it into the soil for the lawn grass. Bees and your garden benefit from the clover in your lawn. The clover draws them into the landscape and to the garden to pollinate your blooms. One hosta grower left the clover in her lawn for the rabbits to enjoy. She found they preferred the clover over her expensive hostas. So before reaching for the weed killer consider embracing the beauty and benefit of this plant.

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Tips for Indoor Plants

Fertilize amaryllis and other forced bulbs that you want to keep. Use a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer. Apply it after they are done flowering.

Now is the time to prune your indoor plants. Use a hand pruner or garden scissors to shape plants and reduce their size. 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 no more than one-third of the plant. Sterilize pruners after each use to avoid spreading diseases.

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