We turn the pages of the calendar and like children we ask, “Are we there yet?” We are so anxious to start an active gardening season, and the question is what should we do now? On the chilly days, sit tight, organize your plans, research when to divide an overgrown perennial bed, or which shrubs can be pruned in the spring.
All the blooms for this year can be lost if you prune spring blooming shrubs that bloom on last year’s growth. Lilacs are a good example. Wait until blooming is finished and then remove the flower spikes back to where you see the new branches beginning to push out. Check for crossed branches and small diameter branches on the interior of the plant and cut them out.
Clean and sharpen tools. Be ahead of the frost warnings in June and July on the 6 pm news by planning on what will be needed for protection of the warm weather crops. Double check your planting supplies. Seed starting mix, potting soil, compost or soil amendments may sell out quickly again this year. If you don’t have a soil thermometer, that should be at the top of a shopping list.
Cool-season vegetable seeds can be planted at a soil temperature of 40 degrees. The readings would have to be on a consistent basis over a week’s reading. The selection would include beets, carrots, peas, radishes, lettuce and spinach.
Also on the shopping list should be sunscreen, sunhat or visor and gloves. The sunscreen is especially important for protection as our high dessert climate promotes skin cancers. Think of all the items as your new spring outfit.
On the first days of sun and warmth, we tend to overdo the garden activity — writes the gardener who doesn’t take heed of the advice. No matter how active we think we are, anyone headed out the door with a shovel and a rake needs to do some serious stretching exercises a few days prior.
We can medicate our winter frustrations and COVID-19 depression by being an aggressive weed/grass puller. It is good mental therapy to rip and pull and is much cheaper than anti-depressants. We feel better mentally and the garden soil has benefited.
Next on my list is to cut back the perennials that were left for winter plant protection.
I fertilized my spring blooming bulbs when growth started appearing. Now I will wait until the plant dies back naturally. No cutting back the foliage as the dying foliage is nourishment for next year’s bloom. Some gardeners complain that it is so unsightly. The solution is to find a perennial that can be planted close by that would camouflage the bulb foliage as it develops in the spring.
Preparing the garden soil makes us feel closer to the real digging in and planting time. With the soil cleared, compost, soil amendments or cow or horse manures can be added. It is not unreasonable to ask the vendor if the manure is free of herbicide residue.
Each year I remind gardeners that the era of the big roto-tiller is over. In recent years the results of soil science studies have become more available to the benefit of home gardeners.
Gardeners are learning the value of what is below the soil surface. Algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and macroscopic organisms, each have their importance in the structure of healthy soil. By roto-tilling we disrupt the natural cycle and millions of organisms are killed or displaced.
To mimic nature, information from Cornell University of Soil & Crop Science advises to add compost or amendments to the soil surface or to incorporate them into only the top few inches of soil. For the planting of trees, shrubs and perennials follow the advice from Oregon State University of mixing compost in the planting hole with the native soil before placing the plant.