Prepare for Spring

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Our Garden Gang's

Prepare for Spring Tips

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General Spring Preparation

Plan ahead:  Make a list of what you'd really like to see in your garden and stick to it. There's no use growing winter cabbage, regardless of how lovely it looks in the frost, if you don't eat cabbage. A list will keep you under control when you see the sales and are tempted to purchase on a whim. In addition, if you plan exactly where plants are going to go, you won't make mistakes such as placing sun loving plants in the shade.  

Recycle:  Eliminate expenditures for containers and equipment by re-using items you already have at home. Margarine tubs, yogurt and cottage cheese containers and egg cartons are fantastic for seed starting. Old gardening boots, wheelbarrows, and toolboxes can make whimsical substitutes for expensive outdoor containers. Window frames can be converted into cold frames and plastic milk jugs and pop bottles can be used to make a mini greenhouses or hot caps.  

Start from seed when you can:  One packet of tomato seed is often equivalent to the price of one tomato seedling yet you get the potential of at least 30-40 plants in each packet. While it may take longer and require advance planning, starting the majority of your plants from seed can be a big savings. No need for expensive heat mats - the top of the VCR or water heater is ideal. Indoors, fluorescent tubes make a suitable substitute for expensive grow lights and can be rigged up under a table or on a shelf in the garage.

Don't forget to try to save your own seed during the season. Not only will you save on the seed purchase the following year, but you'll also be able to select seed from plants that you know did well in your climate.  Make sure that you save seed from non-hybrid plants.

Plants that keep on giving:  In the vegetable garden, climbing peas, tomatoes, beans and squash tend to provide more produce than their bush equivalents. If you're limited in space, growing these plants vertically can be very successful. In addition, plants like zucchini are notorious for their yields. Trade with neighbors for food you didn't grow.

Among the flowers, try growing multi-purpose plants to get more bang for your buck. Many flowers like bachelor's buttons, violas, calendula, pansies, and roses are edible as well as beautiful. Yarrow, alyssum, fennel, cumin, and coriander all attract beneficial insects as well.

Find friends:  Share ideas and costs with a gardening buddy and make it cheaper for both of you. Few of us require a whole packet of seed for the gardening season, so split the packet with a friend or else trade seed for a variety you didn't buy. 

A gardening buddy is also a great person to share tools with. If you've got a fantastic hoe and your friend has an excellent pitchfork, why double up?

Sharing with a gardening partner will also allow you to purchase garden needs in bulk. If you require potting mix, why not go for the bale size instead of the small packages? 

Compost, if you can't make your own, is much cheaper if purchased by the yard and shared with a friend or two.  

Joining a garden club is a great way to meet gardening enthusiasts if no friends or family are willing to team up with you. Most clubs also hold plant exchanges or sales where you can get plants for a real steal.  

Online garden clubs like Our Garden Gang are excellent for sharing growing tips with experts in different fields!

Get Ready for Spring

February is often the wettest or snowiest month. We can be lazy in the garden and just watch the bulbs begin to show their heads and the new growth emerge. Crocus, daffodils, anemones, Dutch iris and plum trees begin to brighten our yards with their vibrant colors towards the end of the month.  March and April herald the beginning of spring and it's time for gardeners to get busy. As flowering shrubs begin to bud, prune a few branches and bring indoors to force them for bloom.

Here are the major activities to begin now:

  • FROST can kill your tender plants purchased early, so watch out for clear, still nights and protect your plants with sheets, tarps, cardboard boxes or plastic. Don't touch the leaves.

  • FUCHSIAS over wintered indoors can be PRUNED and the cuttings given to a friend or planted elsewhere for color later in the season.

  • BULBS for summer planting should be purchased now before there are none left in the stores. Don't plant them, though, until next month.  You can start begonias, dahlias, gladiolus, watsonia, and callas indoors now for planting out later.

  • BARE ROOT TREES AND ROSES can soon been planted.  Get into your garden center to select roses early, while there is still a good supply.  See what's safe to plant early, below.

  • REPOT houseplants this month and they'll have a great spring growth.

  • CHECK to see if you need an additional dormant spray on deciduous plants and roses. Only spray if they have not begun to bud or they could be damaged.

  • WATCH your oak trees if you have them for oak moth larvae. If you notice large masses of green droppings on the ground, call in the professionals. For a smaller tree spray thoroughly with Bacillus thuringiensis, orthene, or carbaryl.

  • LAWNS will soon be ready to be mowed regularly in most zones. Feed with high-nitrogen fertilizer. If weather is dry, seed or sod new lawns. Pull any weeds, making sure to get the roots. To control crabgrass and broad-leafed weeds, spray paying careful attention to the labels.

  • SOIL PREPARATION is important for all new flower and vegetable gardens. Spade and till, adding organic soil amendments and compost from your pile. Work in a dry complete fertilizer.

  • COMPOSTING is still important for all your grass clippings and spring prunings. Don't forget to add some fertilizer and keep moist for speedier results.

  • PERENNIALS such as day lilies, agapanthus, yarrow, and phlox need to be divided while they are semi-dormant. Replant healthy pieces after division.

  • FERTILIZE. This is the best time to feed all plants including fruit trees, annuals, roses, and shrubs. Mature trees need their nitrogen booster. Wait to fertilize rhododendrons and camellias with an acid fertilizer until next month and then when they are finished blooming. Don't forget to give food to your potted plants as well.

  • PEST CONTROL is important before new growth starts.  Now is the time to apply dormant sprays.  For all the new growth that attract the creepy crawlies, in early spring - wash them off with a hose or use a spray gun with a little household detergent. Keep your vigilance on baiting or picking slugs, snails and earwigs - controlling them early reduces summer damage. Be ready with netting to keep birds and small animals from eating your plants.

  • MULCH to conserve moisture unless rains have been extremely heavy.

  • VEGETABLE planting time is near in most zones for potatoes, herbs, beets, peas and carrots, and eggplant (start indoors). Still time for broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Warm season vegetables such as tomatoespeppers, cucumbers and squash can be planted later.  See what's safe to plant now, (and later), below.

  • PRUNE summer and fall-blooming shrubs, pelargoniums and geraniums for fuller summer blooms.

Things that are Safe to Plant Now
Project ImageAsparagus crowns can go into the ground as soon as the soil is workable--thawed and not wet. Since they're planted six to eight inches deep, they'll be insulated from a late freeze.  Project ImageBuying bare-root plants can save you a bundle of money. This forsythia sold for only $8 as a bare-root plant but would have cost far more as a five-gallon container plant in full leaf.

Things that are Safe to Plant Early

Generally speaking, there are many things you can consider planting roughly six weeks before the last average frost date in your area. You'll want to get these crops going as soon as the soil can be worked:

  • Potatoes are one of the first crops to go in the ground. Because they are planted four inches deep, they are well-insulated from cold temperatures. Potatoes can also be planted above the ground and covered with a 12-inch layer of hay or straw, which also makes an effective insulator. Your potatoes may be damaged if the foliage begins to emerge and you experience a sudden freeze, but the damage is usually minimal and the plants ordinarily recover nicely.

  • Asparagus crowns can also go in the ground early--assuming the soil isn't frozen or soaking wet, because they are also planted fairly deeply. Dormant rhubarb roots and garlic are also planted deep and thus are insulated from cold temperatures.

  • Peas actually benefit from early planting because they love cool weather. The same is true of spinach, radishes, turnips and beets.

You can also plant deciduous trees and shrubs--whether container-grown or bare root. Buying plants in bare-root form can save you a lot of money--whether from area nurseries, catalogs or Internet sources. When planting evergreen trees and shrubs in late winter, make sure they get enough moisture to prevent them from drying out on cold windy days.

Plant these a little later

When you go to the nursery to buy early-season crops, you'll likely find all sorts of other crops available; however, most of them shouldn't be planted early in the season. The advantage of waiting is twofold: it increases the chances of crop survival, and it spreads out over a period of several weeks the amount of work that has to be done at planting time.

  • In most cases, you should wait another week or two before planting onions from seeds, sets or transplants.

  • Also wait a week or two after early planting before setting out cole-crop transplants such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.

  • Although lettuce is grown from seed and can tolerate cool temperatures, it doesn't handle freezes well, so sowing should be stalled for two weeks after early planting just to be on the safe side.

  • Wait at least another month before planting culinary herbs.

Plant these much later:

Any warm-season vegetable such as tomatoes, eggplant, squash, beans, peppers, melons and cucumbers, whether from seed or transplants, should be planted much later. The seeds will rot in cold ground, and the transplants won't survive temperatures below 45.  You can start these warm season plants indoors 6-8 weeks before safe planting-out time in your zone.

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