By Bob Morrison, Cooper Young Garden Club
Hurray, the snow drops and crocus have done their thing to signal the start of the new season. It’s time to get busy preparing your beds for the new planting season. Here are a few reminders:
Preparing the Soil: Your plants will thrive in almost any well drained soil.
To prepare a bed, turn and till soil (but first wait for it to dry out.).
Add peat moss, bark, compost or other organic material to loosen heavy clays or retain water in light sandy soil.
Most plants prefer slightly acid soil (pH 6.0-6-5). If pH is low (acidic) add lime. If it is high (alkaline), add sulphur.
Sunlight Requirements: As you undertake your initial plant purchases, refer to labels on plants or packages for proper lighting requirements. Full-sun plants prefer a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day.
Shade-loving plants prefer no more than 4-6 hours of morning sun or dappled light under trees. Do not site them where there is sun between noon and 3 p.m.
Most plants will adapt to a partially shady location.
Using Fertilizers: Although most plants thrive in average garden soils, performance can be improved by adding supplements.
Add bone meal, phosphate or a balanced, slow-release fertilizer when planting to help plants become established.
Rake in balanced fertilizer each spring as soon as new growth appears.
Be careful not to overfeed new plants, too much fertilizer can burn tender roots.
Feed basket plants with a liquid or soluble fertilizer once every 2-4 weeks.
Better than all the above fertilizer recommendations, learn about and use compost tea.
Ornamentals: Most perennials (especially fibrous-rooted) can be divided now, including hosta, astilbe, phlox, asters, Shasta daisies, daylilies, and liriope. Use the double-fork method.
Spread slow release fertilizer around ornamental plantings – trees, shrubs, perennial beds.
Finishing cleaning up the perennial beds and cutting back ornamental grasses and liriope.
Mulching — Organic mulches do break down and need to be “top dressed” every year or two.
When adding mulch over top of existing mulch, make sure the total depth does not accumulate more than 3 to 4 inches as too mulch is detrimental to your plants.
Planting — Now is the time to start dahlias indoors in pots. Keep in a warm place (70º) and do not plant outside until late April. Lily bulbs can be directly planted outside in late March. Similarly canna and gladiolus can be planted outside in late March.
Frost-tender flowers — Do not plant these out before April unless you will be able to cover them in case of frost. A sheet of newspaper can save a plant; be sure to weight down the edges.
For shrubs, e.g. Camellia, bloom buds are vulnerable to frost once they swell by say 20%. A drop cloth can save the bloom.
Cooper-Young has many shady yards. You can create wonderful shade gardens with trillium, bleeding hearts, violets, primrose, shooting stars, and lily-of-the-valley.
Fruit Tree Pruning— It is the optimum time to prune peach and plum trees while they are still dormant, and there is less risk of injury due to cold.
An exception, do NOT prune cherries until the fall after the cherries have been harvested.
Lawn Care: Apply pre-emergent crabgrass controls before blossoms drop from the forsythia. Read the label!
Have you had your mower tuned up and the blade sharpened? Mow frequently enough to remove no more than 1/3 of the blade at a time.
Do NOT fertilize cool season lawns (fescue and bluegrass). Nitrogen applied this late is an invitation for brown patch fungus disease in May.
Lime can be applied at any time, facilitating nutrient pick-up by the grass.
It is a good time to hit broadleaf weeds, such as clover and dandelions, with a spot spray of a selective herbicide such as 4-D, Timec, 33 Plus or similar product.
Vegetables: Set out transplants for cool season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Make sure they are “hardened-off” before planting in the garden in mid to late month.
To “harden off” warm season transplants, set seedling trays outside during the day in a protected area and water as needed. Begin a week or two before planting.
Ideally the soil temperature should be above 55 degrees before planting (likely mid-April); otherwise the seedlings (think tomato) will just sit there and take longer for major growth to get started.
In the middle of the month you can direct-seed lettuce and plant potatoes.
It takes about 6 weeks to grow transplants for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. The first week in March gives you about the right amount of time to plant seeds to be ready to plant out in the middle of April.
Other: Watering — Water efficiently this summer using drip hoses. Drib irrigation applies water slowly so it can be absorbed more efficiently. Install drip irrigation system in flower and vegetable gardens before planting starts.
Hanging baskets — Start them in mid-March. Impatiens and begonias do well in the shade. For sunny locations, try dwarf marigolds, petunias, scaveolas, verbenas and annual vincas.
Bird-nesting materials— To encourage birds to nest in your birdhouses, hang balls of loose pieces of yarn and/or string. Winter suet feeder works well for holding bird-nesting materials.
Hummingbirds – The first hummingbirds are due in the area at the end of the month. Get the hummingbird feeders cleaned and ready to go out.
House Maintenance: Prepare for the wet the wet season. Hire an inspector to check your roof and foundation for leaks.
Prepare for flooding — Verify that your gutters direct water away from your foundation.
Replace your HVAC filters. You should check them monthly: ; however, the period between heating and cooling is especially vital.