St. Patrick’s Day is upon us and with it comes a whole litany of gardening related tasks. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion as to what needs to be done and how best to do it, so I will provide you with a short list of the most often misunderstood spring gardening endeavors and how to get your landscape season off to a good start.
No matter how good a job you did with a fall clean-up, landscapes always look shaggy come March. Picking up sticks and cleaning out clusters of fallen leaves are the perfect activities for a sunny spring afternoon. Avoid tracking into garden beds that are soaking wet. Your foot traffic will compact wet soils inhibiting vital aeration and plant growth. Resist the urge to edge beds until the soil is sufficiently dry… this may rarely occur this early and is more likely a job better done later in the spring.
Weeds will begin to grow much sooner than most realize, often gaining a foothold on the season before their growth is detected. This is especially widespread on the south side of homes where sunshine warms garden soils and/or in areas of previous seasons’ weed growth. Treating these areas with a germination inhibitor (Preen) or pulling weeds early will avoid much bigger weed issues later in the season.
March is the ideal month for pruning most trees, shrubs and perennials. Dormant pruning provides the opportunity to shape plants, adjust aggressive growth and to promote plant health and performance. Be cautions with spring blooming plants that may have flower buds present. (Wait to prune these until immediately after blooming). Perennials and ornamental grasses, not pruned in the fall, should be cut back and cleaned at this time. This is also an ideal time to provide structural pruning to young trees that require corrective pruning to develop a strong architecture. For most homeowners, it is beneficial to have a professional properly prune your landscape plants every 3-5 years. More than anything else, pruning, done correctly, will greatly extend the lifespan of your landscape investment.
Do all landscape plants require fertilization to thrive? Not necessarily, but many plants which were stressed during the extreme heat and drought of last summer would benefit from getting the boost that an early spring fertilization offers. I nearly always prefer an organic fertilizer that not only feeds my plants but also helps improve garden soils over time. I Look to fertilize evergreens that are not a deep green or may have signs of winter burn. I always fertilize newly planted items (for a few years) to help them get established. I identify plants that may be in trouble or struggling and keep them fertilized as well. Some plants are heavier feeders than others, requiring more energy than others to perform. My Azalea, Rhododendron, Asparagus, Hemlock, Pachysandra, Holly, Roses and fruit trees/berries are examples of hungry plants I keep well fed. Lastly, we all have our favorite plants and, regardless of what may be happening with them, I will always provide some food when I am trolling the yard with my bucket of fertilizer.
Mulching is a very important element for the success of your landscape plants but should not be done until garden soils are dry and warm. This usually does not occur until May, so wait a month or 2 before getting into your Mulch Madness.
This has not been a particularly difficult winter for our lawns so we have less issues to deal with than usual. This is the ideal time to begin your seasonal lawn weed control program. Apply crabgrass control now before these grassy weeds begin to grow. Early season broadleaf weeds have already begun to spread and can be controlled with lawn weed killers specifically designed for early season use (not all are effective in cool weather conditions). This is also the time to begin your lawn fertilization program. Again, I am a proponent of organic options that develop the entire plant growing environment versus synthetic fertilizers that do not provide for soil improvement. Bare or sparse lawn areas can now be over-seeded but be sure to avoid these areas when applying your crabgrass control that would prohibit the development of grass seeds.
It is considered lucky to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Here in the CLE we are happy not to be in the midst of a snow storm on March 17th so if you can plant peas you are truly blessed! Be careful, again, not to tread and compact wet garden soils with your foot traffic. Provided you have prepared your garden soil in the fall (and it is dry) you can also plant onion sets, and lettuce seeds now. For those not ready to plant, I strongly suggest testing your soil now for fertility and Ph so you have time to adjust before planting.
Bugs can be an issue but how do you tell the many good bugs from the bad ones without being an entomologist? There are many easy options. First you can identify the plants in your landscape that are prone to specific insect damage and treat those regularly and proactively. There are not many plants you would have to worry about in most landscapes, but if not given the proper attention, these would be at risk of not reaching their full maturity if left untreated. Another option is to provide a more widespread, preventative treatment of dormant oil spray to your landscape plants. This spray has very low toxicity and controls a wide range of harmful insects when applied in early spring. The last suggestion I have is what we refer to as IPM (integrated pest management) which is a fancy term for keeping a close eye and addressing concerns as needed with targeted and specific control measures. So… look at your plants and if you see something that doesn’t look right, take a picture and show it to your local garden professional for advice on what needs to be done.
Caring for your landscape may seem like an intimidating and confusing subject for many but it really doesn’t need to be. There are resources available to help you better understand what challenges you are dealing with in your gardens. Unlike fixing your car or a computer, there are innumerable variables that make your yard, your landscape, your individual garden bed unique so no one solution is necessarily universally applicable to each similar situation. The good news is that you don’t need to know about everyone’s garden issues, only yours. Conversations here at the store pouring over pictures and/or plant samples provides a localized approach to landscape issues that cannot be replicated with a generic on-line gardening post. In some cases, a tour through your landscape with a trained horticulturist may provide the specific insights needed to accurately direct your gardening pursuits for the long-term.
Ready or not, spring is here so I hope this information will help you get ahead of your gardening season.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!