IN THE GARDEN: These spring gardening tips can pay off all summer long

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 13:33
  • Fran Durner / Anchorage Daily News Mixed primula planting

So if you’re a gardener, spring this year has been a bit of a tease to know when to get out and start the process. Although not unusual, the game of garden roulette — sunny warm weather one day and freezing rain and snow the next — is nevertheless frustrating for the gung-ho gardener.

This past weekend, it looks like it is finally “game on,” with the tree leaves bursting forth and the longer daylight. These two signs and the weather report are all we need to get out there and start the cleanup process. I’m so thankful for the spring rain to knock down the dust and give our flowers the needed drink to bring on the May blooms.

There is plenty to do before planting can take place safely in our climate, and it all starts with the yard cleanup — raking dead grass, picking up downed branches and releasing the garden beds of the leaves that have served as protection from the cold over the winter. Place the grass and leaves in your compost pile to break down and make rich dark compost to place on your garden beds later. As you pull out the leaves and debris from your garden beds, pull out dead annuals and toss them in your compost pile.

Now is a good time to look over your trees and bushes and remove any broken, dead, or diseased branches. The pruning of fruit trees and bushes is desirable before leaf out and the setting of buds. Early spring is a good time to prune bushes to control size and shape. Avoid pruning bushes that set their blooming buds in the fall. An example of fall bloom bud setting bushes are lilacs and rhododendrons. Look up your particular bush to make sure before pruning.

After the ground has thawed, place a couple of inches of fresh compost on your garden beds and turn the soil over mixing it in. Add your fertilizer at this time. This compost will keep down the weeds and hold moisture in the garden beds.

Place your stakes, trellises and plant cages to support your emerging plants. A little trick of mine is to give my plants a jump start with a good drink of warm water with Epsom salts, (one tablespoon per gallon). This watering is especially important for plants underneath the eaves of the house. Although this process takes a little time, I feel it is well worth my effort.

If you haven’t done so already, clean, sharpen and oil all your cutting tools. I also clean and disinfect my cutting tools each time I use them, spraying them with 10 % bleach solution and leaving them to dry out.

As you see weeds emerge, get them under control before they take off, bloom and spread. This is particularly challenging for me with a large yard. I hit weeding hard in the fall and put on compost. The weeds come out so much easier when small. If you take one area at a time you can accomplish this successfully. The weeds can take over if you let them. Weeds steal nutrients from your flowers and bushes. It is up to you to protect your plants, so be relentless and don’t give up.

Divide clumping perennials to give your plants’ roots a chance to spread. Share these perennials with friends or fill in bare areas of your yard. Before it is safe to plant, now is a good time to build new flower and vegetable beds.

You can buy a soil ph kit for a few dollars and get an idea of how acidic your soil is. Growers using soil should adjust their ph to a range of 6 to 6.8. I add lime as needed to bring up the ph of my soil. Soil analysis can be done if you want to know what is missing nutritionally. The Cooperative Extension Service is a good resource to find the best companies that provide soil analysis at the best price. The Cooperative Extension will also read the report analysis and give you the soil additive recommendations for your soil type. Due to budget cuts, our Cooperative Extension lost the ability to provide the lab service.

Stop feeding your birds and take down and clean bird feeders until fall. Our bears are up and about and they will definitely be looking for the feeders. Place a water source out for birds and bees at this time.

Enjoy the gardening process most of all. It is an absolute joy to gardeners to get outside and begin. Warm sunny weather helps of course, at least it does for me. Think safety and use good body mechanics while bending and lifting. Hit the gardening centers and see what they have grown for us. You can never have too many plants!

Chris Wood is president of the Greater Eagle River Garden Club. Email her at [email protected]

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