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North Hills Monthly

Things to Do While You’re Waiting for Planting Season

Feb 26, 2016 05:39PM ● By Denise Schreiber
“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.”
— Ruth Stout

The days are longer, the sun is higher and we are all itching to get out in the garden and do what we love best…garden. However, before you become too enthusiastic, there are a few things to remember to do first.

Digging, bending over, and lifting heavy objects aren’t things that most of us have been doing for several months, or at least not on a regular basis. So before you go out and destroy your knees or back, try some simple exercises first. Warm up by marching in place for a few minutes; gently stretch your neck forward and then to the side, touching your ears to your shoulders to help loosen your neck. Bend backwards with your hands on your hips; lift your arms in the air a few times. This should help get you ready to go into the garden, but if you feel any pain or are uncomfortable, get checked out by your doctor.

Once you are out in the garden, survey the damage from winter. Broken branches should be picked up and cut into manageable pieces either for the fireplace or garbage pick-up. Prune your trees before it warms up and the sap starts running. If the sap is running, you will see a liquid discoloration on the trunk and while it won’t damage the tree, it will be unsightly.

Check for insect cases, such as those from praying mantises. You don’t want to destroy them since they prey on the bad (and sometimes good) guys in the garden. The same for spider cases; the arachnids are actually beneficial to your plants.

Gently rake dead leaves away from perennials to help them start growing, and divide and transplant perennials that bloom in the fall now so that they have time to establish. If you are bothered by Bambi, spray young plants with a deer repellent. Many times deer favor the very young, tender shoots until the plants become thicker and tougher. Deer, rabbits and the dreaded groundhog love lilies and daylilies, so spraying these plants will help them get off to a healthy start.

Many early bulbs are popping out of the ground now, like snowdrops, Siberian iris and crocus. Let them die back naturally; there’s no need to deadhead them. Daffodils and tulips are also starting to work their way out of the ground. There are early, mid-season and late bulbs, so you can have them coming up in your garden until late May. You should apply a slow release fertilizer at this time to help them grow and bloom. Once they are done blooming, remove the flower stalk and allow the leaves to die back naturally; no braiding or banding them. This is the time that they store food for next season, and they can’t do it while they are being tortured. If you don’t like to see dying foliage, consider planting a perennial that will grow in front of it and hide the leaves.

In the vegetable garden, you can plant onion and shallot bulbs; shallot bulbs taste like a mild garlic and onion combo. They are easy to grow and add a wonderful flavor to most dishes.

It is said that St. Patrick’s Day is the day to plant your peas, but you are much better off waiting until the soil is a little warmer and a bit drier before digging in the seed. In fact, don’t dig in the garden now. The soil is too wet and the seed can actually rot! To test to see if the soil is ready to be turned over, take a trowel full of soil and squeeze it in your hand. If it sticks together, it is too soon to dig. When you squeeze it and it crumbles out of your hand, then it is time.

One of the things you can do now either in the vegetable garden or your landscape is to pull weeds. One of the first weeds to come up is my mortal enemy—bittercress. It is the little weed in a rosette shape with a tiny white flower, and it shoots out seeds everywhere. I believe that it blooms even under snow. It does disappear in hot weather, but returns just as quickly when the temperature drops a little. Be vigilant with it and pull out the tiniest seedling because it will bloom almost overnight. I use a plastic grocery bag when I am weeding, because I never compost weeds and instead put them in the garbage.

It’s a couple of months before we can put out warm weather crops, so hang in there! Garden season is coming!