Spring Has Sprung!

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener Coordinator

(4/7) Finally after a very odd winter, spring peepers are singing and the crocuses are blooming. Many January and February weekends were spent looking at seed catalogs while dreaming of the perfect vegetable garden, admiring and desiring the new cultivars of perennials for the garden. Now that the weather is springing, we can make some of those dreams a reality.

Direct Sowing Seeds: One of my great pleasures of spring is touching and feeling the soil. Direct sowing seed is a great first chore that satisfies this pleasure in the garden. April is a good month to direct sow lettuce and other salad green seeds. Work up the garden, dig in the compost, and level the soil. Create small furrows for the seed to be dropped and cover with a thin layer of soil. Peas, radishes, and beets benefit from sowing now as well. Potato sets should also be planted at this time and cold hardy vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage could go in the ground. Note: Depth of seed planting is important information located on the back of seed packs. This information will come in handy when determining how deep to make furrows and how much soil to cover the seed.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs: April is also the time of year to examine the condition of your shrubs and trees. After a snowy winter, you may find branches that are broken and evergreens with branches that went from green to brown. Winter damage can be an easy fix if you have the patience and muscles to prune. Any broken branches should be cut. Cut back to just outside the branch collar for best plant recovery. This is for all shrubs and trees, whether evergreen or deciduous. Do not cover the cut with paint, tar, or any plant wound dressing. This only inhibits the callusing needed at the cut area for good recovery.

You may find after inspection of a shrub that it will need replaced or cut to the ground for rejuvenation. Look at this as an opportunity, not a loss. There are many new plant cultivars that can replace your damaged or dead shrub which may be a better choice. Remember to select the right plant for the right place. Know the sun, soil moisture, and optimum size of the plant before purchasing. Be sure it matches the site needs of the location where it is to be planted.

If plant rejuvenation is your preferred choice, check with your local extension office to be sure the plant species you are cutting to the ground will respond to a hard pruning. Rejuvenation is a way to describe the act of pruning a shrub by cutting it all the way to the ground. Plants like common lilac, forsythia, bayberry, spiraea, and rhododendron all react well to this treatment. Just know that patience is necessary, as the plants are, in essence, starting over. However, the results are typically worth it because the plants respond with fresh growth and all the old, dead wood is gone.

Purchase Bare-Root Shrubs and Trees: April is a good time to purchase bare-root trees and shrubs. This simply means that the plants are in a dormant stage with no soil attached to the roots. Some retail nurseries with cold storage facilities have bare-root plants as an option this time of year. Conservation District offices often have tree seedling sales this time of year, or you can order these from specialty catalogs. After receiving your bare- root plants get them in the ground as soon as you can. If you need to hold them for a short time (no longer than one week) place them in a cool, dark place, cover their roots and keep them moist.

When placing these plants in the ground, make the hole wide and deep enough to handle all the roots. Donít jam the roots into a hole thatís too small. This can cause the plant to die. Backfill with the soil you took out of the hole and be sure the root flare is not covered with soil. The root flare is the area at the bottom of the plant right before the roots have developed. When plants are put too deep into a hole, the plants can die. After planting, water well.

Perennials: Moving on to the perennial beds brings us to another favorite task of mine. Evaluating any garden notes taken last season will help you determine if anything new needs to be planted or if division is necessary. However, before running to the local garden centers and purchasing new plants, determine which plants need to be divided.

Clumps too big for their spot, dying out in the center (as typically happens with Shasta daisies), or just the need to increase the number of a particular plant to put in other locations could be good reasons to divide. Generally, if plants bloom in the summer or fall, spring is a good time to divide them. Division is simply done by digging up the plant and pulling it apart into smaller pieces. Be sure that part of the plantís crown and roots are present. Sometimes two pitchforks pulling in different directions is the way to go; other times you may need to take a knife or machete to cut the clumps apart. Shovels will also serve as cutting tools.

After the perennials are divided, re-plant them as soon as you can to avoid their roots drying out. Backfill with the soil you took out of the hole and water well. This is a great time to share your love for gardening by offering unwanted perennials to neighbors and friends.

If purchasing new perennials, do a little research in advance. Know what kind of conditions you have and choose appropriately. Shade plants really do not do well in sun, and sun plants are not for the shade. Avoid disappointment in the longevity, health, and blooming of plants by selecting the perennials that fit the site.

Annuals: itís still a bit too early for annual planting in the beds, but container gardening is a great way to get that annual color at focal areas. Annuals such as pansies are a wonderful spring welcome as visitors enter your home or garden. Mixing pansies with other cold hardy annuals like snapdragons and pots of bulbs makes a great show. Often times youíll find perennials available with colored leaves like foam flower and coral bells (which have pretty spring flowers to boot) that will contribute additional texture and color to a spring planter. Use your imagination.

As my garden chore list grows longer, I look forward to every free evening and weekend that I can spend outside in the garden. Unkempt as my gardens may be now, as the season progresses, nothing can take away the joy and satisfaction I receive from gardening.

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