Spring Garden Checklist
Spring is the season when gardeners and their gardens come to life. After a long winter, the soil warms up, trees and other plants sprout new leaves and sunny days beckon us to spend more time outdoors. But where is a good place to begin your summer garden projects?
Whether you are planning a vegetable garden, a flower bed, or plantings of new trees and shrubs, cleaning up your yard of fallen leaves, dead plants and rotted wood will keep you busy and can also provide free fertilizer in the form of compost. Rake up leaves and other plant debris, pull last summer's annual vegetables and flowers, prune dead or damaged limbs from trees and shrubs and transfer them into a compost bin or make a pile on the ground. Cut large plants and branches into smaller pieces to speed the decomposition process, stack them about four feet high, and then sprinkle the compost pile with water. Cover your compost with a tarp if you wish, and turn it with a pitchfork every 10 to 14 days to speed decomposition. By the middle of summer you'll have rich, fertile compost to nourish your flowers, trees, shrubs and veggies.
Starting Seeds and Planting
Plan ahead by starting seeds of summer annuals six to eight weeks before your final spring frost. Seeds give you more choices of varieties than you'll find at nurseries and can also save you some precious dollars. Use nursery flats or bowl-shaped pots, fill them with potting soil and then plant your seeds the correct depth and distance apart, following packet instructions. Keep your seeded pots in a warm, sunny area and water them when the soil surface becomes dry.
Plant your seedlings or purchased bedding plants after the threat of frost has passed. Fill a double raised bed with a combination of topsoil and compost. Then plant tomatoes and peppers 12 to 18 inches apart. Plant smaller plants, such as basil and other herbs, more closely. Plant larger plants, such as rose bushes and shrubs, every two to three feet. Keep the soil moist until you see new growth emerging and then water only when the soil feels dry to the touch down to a depth of about two inches.
Mulching Benefits All Plants
Even if your compost is not ready to use in spring, some of the ingredients you put into your compost pile can serve as mulch. Lawn clippings, fallen leaves and other plant materials are helpful in keeping weeds away and the soil warm and moist. Other materials you can use as mulch include wood ashes, sawdust, peat moss, straw and purchased compost. Even black plastic is considered mulch -- use it around plants such as melons and eggplant that prefer a warmer climate.
Fertilizing Starts in Spring
Fruit trees and spring flowering bulbs benefit from a spring feeding. Choose an all-purpose plant food with equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These nutrients are listed on the label as N-P-K and the percentages of each are listed as numbers, such as 10-10-10. If you prefer organic fertilizer, water plants with diluted fish emulsion or make compost tea by mixing several cups of finished compost with each two to three gallons of water. Newly planted vegetables, flowers and other plants won't need fertilizer for another month or six weeks.
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