Spring is right around the corner and, if you are like most gardeners, you have anxiously awaited this time all winter long. Your seeds are waiting for sowing, your bulbs are beginning to pop up, and the warmer days confirm that gardening season is almost here.
So now is the time to make sure your garden is ready for action. While we are eager to get our hands in the soil, taking some time now to prep will help lessen the work over the next few months.
Let’s start with a stroll around your garden. Grab a pad of paper and pen. As you walk around, look for anything that may need some attention, creating a written to-do list as you go. Take note of anything broken. Does the gate still wobble? Does the trellis need a good painting before plants cover it? Are there missing boards on your fencing? Repairing your structures now will save you frustration later.
Spend some time looking at your plants. It’s helpful to our native butterflies, bees, and moths to leave your fallen leaves and perennials in the fall. Not tidying up the garden in the fall provides nesting sites for these critters to survive the winter. If you left last year’s plants in the garden over the winter, now is the time to get those beds cleared and prepped. Any annuals left in the garden from last season should now be pulled and tossed into the compost pile.
Your perennials need some care now as well. You don’t want to pull them like the annuals since they will return to treat you with spectacular blooms. But you should cut back the dried stems to about two inches above ground. You may see some new growth starting to come up; be careful as you work around these plants. It is also a good time to put any stakes you may need into the soil for the taller plants, so you won’t have to deal with foliage getting in the way later.
If your perennials have gotten too large for their current space, consider dividing the plants and transplanting the divisions to another location in your garden. One way to know if perennials or ornamental grasses have gotten too large is the center of the plants will begin to die. Don’t have room for the new plants? Check with your friends and neighbors; someone will be happy to give your plant divisions a new home.
Look at the soil in your garden. Remove the debris that has collected over the winter along with any weeds, placing them in your compost pile. Add a layer of compost or other organic material to your bed before the plants get growing. When you mulch, be sure to not put the mulch up against the base of your plants or the trunks of your trees. Plants need to be able to breathe and mulching too close or too high to the trunk will make this difficult.
While you are looking at the soil, consider its nutrients. If you didn’t test your soil in the fall, now is a good time to collect soil samples to get tested. The results will help you know which supplements you need to add to the soil. Soil test kits are available from your county Penn State Extension office.
Prune your fruit trees, shrub roses, wisteria, and other plants that bloom on new growth. As you are pruning, be careful not to prune your azalea, forsythia, lilacs, or other plants that bloom on last year’s growth. Save that pruning for later in the season after they have flowered.
As you prune, be sure to remove dead branches along with any branches that cross over other branches. Not quite sure how to prune a particular plant? Check out the Penn State Extension website (https://extension.psu.edu) for how-to articles, videos, and classes. You can also ask a Master Gardener by emailing the Adams County Garden hotline: email@example.com.
You’re not done with the trees just yet. Check up on those trees you planted in the past year or two. Have they grown to the point where the supports are too tight and need loosened? It is easier to do that now before the leaves fill out.
As you stroll your garden, take a turn into your tool shed. Before you get pruning, digging, or planting, be sure you have sharpened, repaired, cleaned, and sterilized your tools. You can disinfect them in a bleach solution (6 Tablespoons of bleach to 1 quart of water) or using 70% alcohol.
Early March is about eight to 10 weeks from the projected last frost date for this area. Check your seed packets for guidance on which plants you can begin sowing now. Your cool weather crops such as lettuce, broccoli, kale, and onions may be ready to sow. But you’ll want to wait a bit longer if you plan to start your tomatoes, peppers, or flowers from seed.
Now that you’ve got your to-do list, you can prioritize what needs done first. Take advantage of the warmer weather to get your garden beds in shape so they’ll be ready when you want to put your seedlings in the ground. Getting a jump start on gardening tasks will give you more time to enjoy your plants during the upcoming gardening season.
Visit us on Facebook at Penn State Master Gardeners in Adams County for our Master Gardeners’ Monday Videos. Timely and relevant topics will be discussed on a weekly basis keeping readers up to date on current horticultural issues.
Landscaping in your Environment: This five-week series runs Thursdays, March 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30, at 6:30 p.m. will focus on our impact on the environment and how we can design and plan to enhance our ecosystem as well as be pleasing to us. Join us as we work through our own landscapes. All materials will be provided. Registration and more information available here, https://extension.psu.edu/landscaping-for-our-environment
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