I’ve got a bad case of the winter blues. Even enchanting flower gardening magazines and catalogues aren’t helping. At this time of the year I feel like a ship’s captain scanning the horizon for land – except I am searching for small green shoots. The minute I see something green I’ll scamper out for a closer inspection; head down, rump up. If it is a weed, I’ll pull it out in disgust but, ahhhhh, if it is one of the survivors from our crazy winter, then I’ll give it a thumbs up and whisper “Carry on”.
I expect a lot from my gardens. I practice tough love, refusing to pamper ‘prima donnas’, and you should too. By taking some simple steps in spring, I can have healthier, better-behaved gardens the rest of the year. Below are two of my tried-and-proven tricks for jump-starting beautiful gardens.
As soon as the snow melts and the ground warms up I do two things, weed and feed….and I’m not talking Scott’s chemical Weed and Feed product.
Early spring is the perfect time to get a jump-start on weeds. You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘A weed in time saves nine’, but this truth is ‘exponentially increased’ if weeds are ‘subtracted’ before their ‘multiplication factor’ kicks in. Depending on how fast warm weather arrives, late March is when perennial weeds start waking up and annual weeds begin germinating from nasty little seeds. Attack while you have the advantage. Hand weeding is easier while the soil is still moist from winter snows. A stirrup hoe (or circle hoe) can also be used to sever green tops from their roots. With either method, try to disturb the soil as little as possible. The more soil turned over, the more dormant weed seeds that are brought to the surface, germinating as reinforcements. If you want to use a post-emergent weed killer (organic of course) then Burnout II, Nature’s Avenger and EcoSmart Organic Weed and Grass Killer are good choices. Just be sure not to spray any ‘good guys’ (perennials, bulbs, etc.) or the result will be the same, dust to dust, so to speak. Organic pre-emergent weed killers that target seeds usually include corn gluten. Popular product lines are Concern, Espoma, Bradfield Organics and WOW. In your enthusiasm to eliminate weed seeds, remember that corn gluten does not distinguish between a crab grass seed or a flower seed….they are both toast. Whatever your method for early weed eradication, afterwards apply a nutrient-rich mulch such as aged compost, manure or finely shredded wood, to keep weeds at bay.
Fertilizing gardens in spring makes a huge difference. I am quite frugal when it comes to fertilizing. Most plants really don’t need the constant feeding that many advertisers suggest. But as with children in a growth spurt, supplemental nutrition as plants break dormancy, can make a noticeable difference. The fuel required to generate new stems and leaves is stored in dormant roots, the result of the prior fall’s photosynthetic activity. As temperatures rise in spring, plants surge into new growth. A gentle, organic supplement at this time can create head-turning results later in the season. This is especially true if last fall the gardens were stressed by lack of water, abundant weeds that robbed ornamentals of nutrients, or an untimely shearing (cutting gardens back too early thereby sabotaging next year’s food reservoir). When applying granular fertilizers in spring, be sure none settles on leaves or they may burn. The fastest and easiest way to put down fertilizer is when it’s about to rain. That way any granules that landed on leaves will be washed off to waiting roots below. Follow package directions for application rates. Some good organic fertilizers include Espoma (www.espoma.com), Gardener’s Supply Company’s All Purpose Fertilizer 5-5-5 (www.gardeners.com) and North Country Organics (www.norganics.com).
Kerry Ann Mendez is a lecturer, designer, writer, consultant, and the owner of Perennially Yours, a business specializing in low-maintenance perennial gardening and landscaping. Mendez also published two top-selling gardening books: The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7 and Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens: Seeing Your Way Out of the Dark: 52 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money-Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7.