SPRING GARDEN CHECK-LIST, 2010

I  am the sort of gardener who spends most of my time wandering my garden, day-dreaming about what I want it to be. Occasionally pulling a weed here or there, trimming off a wayward branch, collecting flowers for a vase and dead-heading geraniums.  Then, periodically, I will burst forth with a campaign of clean-up and re-do. Now is the time for such a campaign. Try to commit a solid weekend to your garden chores, do it right now, and you will enjoy your wanderings for the next few months without much effort. Here is a list of chores that need doing in early spring.

1. Rake up any remaining debris from the winter leaf drop. If possible, find a corner of your yard that can serve as a compost heap, and pile it there. Locate this far from any drainage ditch as even organic nitrogen is damaging to our waterways.

2. Prune to remove dead branches, thin gnarled shrub growth, and define desired shape of your plants.

3. If you plan on re-locating any plants, now is the time. Prune the plant’s canopy, then root-prune. Use a sharp shovel inserted briskly into the soil at the plant’s drip line.  Water it daily for a couple of weeks until it begins to sprout new roots. Then relocate and continue frequent watering until established.

4. Feed shrubs & trees with an appropriate fertilizer at the correct rate. Feed any shrub or trees within 30 feet of a palm with a formula designed for palms. Try to postpone lawn feed until temperatures warm and the rain starts. That is when your lawn is actively growing and will take up the nutrients. Feeding a dormant lawn can result in excess nutrient run off.

5. Cull plants that are not thriving or have died.  If you think you lost something in the cold-verify that it is dead by the “scratch test”. Scratch the surface of the bark close to the end of a branch-if it is green, you are good. If it is brown, scratch again, closer to the trunk, then down the trunk moving toward the roots. If you have green anywhere, it is still alive. Prune dead growth and feed it. It may just surprise you!

6. Weed! Get weeds in check now-BEFORE they set bud and go to seed. Believe me, even with the cold, the weeds are out there, ready to spring forth. Knock them down with an herbicide, or just pull them (much easier to do when they are young).

7. Plant! March is a great time to freshen flower beds and planters, add new plants to your landscape and replace items that were lost to the cold.

8.  Apply a pre-emergent weed killer. These products work by breaking through the casing of the weed seed, making it impossible for the seed to germinate. this is a very effective approach to holding the buggers at bay.

9. Mulch. Don’t skip this crucial step! Nothing gives you more bang for your buck in terms of keeping a garden low-maintenance than mulch. We are very fond of 7L Brands Eucalyptus Mulch. It is fibrous enough to make a thick matted barrier that holds moisture in and weeds down, yet it has some nice larger pieces that “float” to the top to give a finished look to your beds. Plus it is sourced from sustainable managed forest, right in Okeechobee. Eucalyptus has similar insect-repelling properties as cypress, without the drawback of harvest techniques that can be damaging to sensitive wetlands.

10. Step up scouting for pests. This is the one chore that you will need to stay on top of all through the Spring and Summer. As plants sprout new, soft green growth, certain insects take advantage of that increased food supply to increase their populations. Be on the look out for symptoms of aphids, mealy bugs, whiteflies, thrips and other piercing-sucking and chewing insects.

If you have any citrus trees, it is probably a good idea to apply a fine spray of horticultural oil (being sure to get good coverage on the underside of the leaves) every 10-14 days. This very-low toxicity product helps to keep the pest that carries Citrus Greening virus in check.

Make sure you have some ibuprofen or acetaminophen in the house since this sporadic approach to heavy tasks tends to lead to aches and pains. Marvin and I have found a regular practice of easy yoga and routine hot-tub soaks to be the “Fountain of Youth”.