The first official day of spring was Monday, and with Robins looking for worms, I know spring weather is on its way. Yes, it's that time of year when gardeners stop dreaming about gardening and actually do it!
Spring to me, is looking for the first snowdrops in bloom, seeing what made it through the winter and what additions I need to purchase or grow myself. With the mild weather, I start cleaning out the dead foliage from my flowerbeds, as well as taking the time to pause and think: what a wondrous sight it is, to see my perennials with new growth emerging underneath.
As with most things, timing is the essence of gardening. If garden debris is removed too soon from plants - the frosts set them back, and if not removed soon enough they grow discoloured and distorted underneath.
Various signs of spring can be seen, before starting garden rituals: robins out almost everyday, clematis buds swollen, crocus' in bloom, ferns ready to unfurl their tender shoots, and of course, warmer weather.
When cleaning out the dead debris from flowerbeds, also prune any shrubs and push plants back into the soil that have heaved with the frosts. When pruning, watch for an excess amount of sap to emerge from the cut ends. If an excessive amount does emerge, wait for another cold spell.
Add the garden debris to your compost bin, remembering to turn your compost materials thoroughly to get your compost working again. Finished compost or aged manure can be added around your emerging plants, to give added nutrients with the spring rains.
It isn't time to remove the mulch/covers from your roses yet, wait a few more weeks!
Now is a good time though, to repair trellis' and fencing before you have to work around your plants.
Also, if you have over-wintered plants indoors or in a greenhouse, cuttings can be taken to increase your numbers. Cuttings of annual or regal geraniums are the most common, and can be taken following these simple steps:
Using a sharp exacto-knife, hold a branch that is at least 3-4 inches long and remove it by cutting it off just above a set of leaves. With your newly cut stem in your hand, remove the excess cut end until it is cut approximately 1/8" below the bottom set of leaves. With your fingers remove all of the leaves from the stem except the top 4-6 leaves. Dip the end of your cutting into a powdered #1 rooting hormone (sold in gardening centers), shaking off any excess. Gently insert the cutting into a moistened, sterile potting mix, making a hole with a pencil to help it go in easier if necessary.
Your container of pre-mixed potting mix should be a combination of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite, and not soil from your garden, as this will compact down, thus inhibiting the cutting to grow roots.
A plastic bag or covering should be kept loosely on top of your cutting to prevent moisture loss as it is trying to grow new roots. Mist the plant daily to ensure enough humidity and keep it in a bright but not sunny window. Approximately 4 weeks later, give a gentle tug and if it resists, then rooting has begun and you now remove the plastic covering and place the plant in a sunny location. Water when the top 1/4" of soil is dry and start fertilizing with a diluted liquid fertilizer.
Fertilizers are made up of three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (or also called potassium). When looking for a fertilizer for your needs, consider the purposes of these ingredients. Nitrogen is for lush green leaves, phosphorous is for healthy roots, disease resistance and plant growth and potash is used for early growth and stem strength. When growing specific items it is best to tailor your fertilizer with your needs.
For example, when growing tomatoes, choose a higher second and third number and if growing hostas, then a higher first number is best. When in doubt, an all-purpose fertilizer such as 20-20-20 can also be used with great success.
Seeds can be started indoors now too; either in a south-facing window or under grow-lights. The size of the seed and species will determine how deeply to plant it. If the seed is quite large, then plant it 1/8" - 1/4" deep. It the seed is very small, simply sprinkle the seed on the top of the soil, then barely cover it with a fine sprinkle of sifted soil.
There are exceptions to this; as some varieties need light to germinate, some need either a cold or warm treatment, and others still need to have their hard seed coat bruised or softened.
The most common seeds that are in these categories are: Delphinium need their seed put into the freezer door for 24 hours before sowing. Lupin need their seed soaked in luke-warm water 24-48 hours before sowing and Columbine need their seed put into the refrigerator for 1 week before sowing.
Most annuals available to seed by the home gardener are simple; sow seeds in the pre-moistened soil 1/4" - 1/2" deep in a 70 degree warm, bright light location. Always read the instructions on the back of the packages to achieve the best germination rate. Remember to keep the light source close to the seedling as it grows, or your seedlings will grow weak and flimsy.
Keep your plastic cover on top of the container until the seed sprouts and a set of "true leaves" appear. The first set of leaves grown are oval in shape and are called "seedling leaves". Seedling leaves are the leaves that push their way out of the seed casing. "True leaves" are the second set of leaves grown and are the proper leaf shape of the plant.
The seedlings can be left in these pots until planted into the flowerbeds, or can be transplanted into hanging baskets or window boxes when large enough to handle. Even when annual plants become large, don't plant them outside, as it is wise to wait until all danger of frost have passed.
Acclimatizing your plants to the outside temperature is also needed before planting them in their permanent location. This can be achieved by setting your plants outside in a shady, calm location for a few hours. After doing this for a couple of days, increase the time each day until the plants are left out all day. When all danger of frost has passed, then they can be planted out in their final location.
Lastly, ornaments can be brought back out and if you haven't already, get your tools sharpened and lawn mowers tuned-up, for the gardening season is about to begin!
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Email: Jennifer Moore