Saturday, March 22, 2014

Not So Fast! Gardening Tips for Early Spring by Donna Duffy

Pasqueflower emerging in March
Yes, it does feel a bit like Spring outside. And yes, there are signs of life in your yard and garden. As tempting as it is, don’t go full-force into your gardening mode quite yet. Following are some gardening chores you can start right now, and others that you’ll need to wait to begin.

Wait! It’s too early to do these chores.
Pruning roses – it’s just too early to do this now, even if the canes are showing signs of green. Pruning encourages new growth, and we aren’t out of danger of heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Remember last year? It snowed every week in April. Wait until early May, when the chance of freeze damage lessens. If you have tall canes that have broken unevenly, you can cut them just below the break to prevent them from flailing around in the wind and causing more damage. Do this sparingly.

Don’t remove mulch from your perennials or roses yet. They still need protection from cold temperatures. In fact, if the mulch looks thin in places, you might want to add more or move it back in place if the wind has blown it around.

Don’t assume that your lawn needs to be fertilized. Applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer in April may cause grass to grow too fast, before roots can grow to support the lawn. This makes a lawn less tolerant of summer heat. In most cases, an application of fertilizer in April is not needed when lawns were fertilized the previous fall or if clippings are returned to the lawn. If an April application appears to be necessary, apply the fertilizer at a reduced rate.

Dig in! Do these gardening chores now.
Prune trees and shrubs: Early March is a good time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs (except for birch, maple, walnut, and elm). Remove dead, dying, or unsightly parts of the tree, and branches that are crossed against each other. This is also a good time to prune fruit trees to ensure maximum fruit production. If you suspect that any branches are disease-infected, be sure to sterilize your pruning tools between every cut.

Cut back your ornamental grasses. Small grasses can be cut back with hand tools, on some of the larger grasses you may need to use a hedge trimmer. If so, it will be a dusty job – you may want to wear a nose/mouth mask.

If you didn’t cut back your perennials last fall, you can do that now. Carefully remove last year’s dead growth. Don’t be surprised if you see new growth under all those dead branches and leaves. Once the ground thaws, perennials can be divided and transplanted.

Aerating your lawn in the spring is more beneficial than power raking. It helps improve the root zone by relieving soil compaction while controlling thatch accumulation. Aeration removes plugs of thatch and soil 2 to 3 inches long (the longer, the better) and deposits them on the lawn.

SO! Get on out there and have some fun in the yard!