Steps to Spring Gardening

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

Since it appears that spring is visiting us early this year, there are some things we should be thinking about right now.

1. Take a soil test before planting or adding fertilizer to the soil or turf. Itís always good to know what you are starting out with before dumping lime or other nutrients into any garden. Excess nutrients can do more harm than good.

2. Compost can be spread in any garden. If itís a vegetable garden, work it into the soil. If itís a perennial or shrub garden, use it as a top dressing to help manage weeds.

3. Cool crops like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other greens should be in the ground. Peas could have been planted as early as March 10th. If you havenít yet planted these, itís not too late. Go ahead and get them in the ground now.

4. Although many garden vegetables can be planted by now, donít be in too much of a rush with certain others. Warm crops like green beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes and peppers that are susceptible to colder soils and frosts could be lost if planted now. Remember that Zone 6B, which includes all of Adams County and parts of surrounding counties, still has a chance of a frost as late as May 15. I canít tell you how many calls and questions I have received over the years concerning what to do with the garden plants that have been ruined by frost, or how many bean seeds have rotted in the ground because the soil was too cold. This yearís early warm temperatures get us excited as gardeners, but we do need to learn self-control and wait until the soil and air are just right.

5. Indoor plants should not go outside till late May. Plants grown as houseplants are tropical and do not tolerate colder temperatures, so even though the daytime may be getting to 75 Ė 80 degrees, the nights may still be going below 50.

6. Remember to pick the right plant for the right place. When we go to garden centers this time of year, staff is very busy. Often times, we neglect to ask the right questions. Plants always look so nice and can really get us excited about our future garden, but if we donít know if we have the right spot for it, we could be wasting our money.

7. Go native. Growing native plants that are adapted to your soils will give you success and pleasure. Try plants like chokeberry, inkberry holly and winterberry holly. Chokeberries have red or black berries, depending on the species, and grow to about 4 Ė 5 feet. Inkberry holly is an evergreen shrub, with many cultivars reaching 3-4 feet, making it a great foundation plant selection. The winterberry holly has nice red berries in the fall with great fall color.

Add native perennials to your gardens, too. Not only will they grow well, but they will provide the needed food for our native insects and wildlife. Remember to plant single flowers as opposed to double. Hybridizing for better petal development often takes away the nectar needs for the insects. Try coneflowers, garden phlox, or bee balm for sunny areas. For shade, try ginger, ragwort, or native ferns. For wet spots, turtlehead and cardinal flower are a great choice.

If youíre looking to plant some shade trees, look at the red maple or white oak. Stately trees for sure, and they grow well in our soils. If smaller growing trees are the need, check out river birch, serviceberry, and redbud. Interesting bark is the highlight of the river birch, and lovely spring flowers enhance your garden on the serviceberries and redbuds.

8. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) . This is a term often thrown around, but it simply means know what your plants are, what your pests are, and manage them accordingly. Always get proper identification on any pests that may be attacking your plants. Often times we can manage our pests by simple pruning or moving the plant to the right location. For instance, if you have an azalea growing in full sun, that plant will inevitably be infested with lace bugs. Move it to the shade, and your problems will decrease by many. If a tomato has septoria leaf spot, prune out some of the leaves to provide good air circulation. Water at the ground level and not on the leaves to avoid water splash and spread of the disease.

Donít use pesticides haphazardly. Use them as a last resort; try other types of control first. Understanding what the pest is, what it feeds on, and what feeds on it can help you to manage any crop or plant effectively and efficiently.

9. And lastly, enjoy your garden. Learn as much as you can about what you are growing. Take advantage of local growers who know and understand what they are growing. Support these local growers and garden centers instead of buying from the big box stores. Take advantage of your local extension offices, as Master Gardeners and educators can help you through some of your problems or questions. Take time out of your busy schedule to enjoy your work because as gardeners, we often just enjoy the work instead of the results. I know; Iím a gardener too.

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