Archive for Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Gardens need attention to get them off to a good start

March 8, 2005


Wake up and get moving in your garden. It's officially spring.

Plants are budding, daffodils are popping blooms, and perennials are poking up through the soil.

They need attention and some care to get them off to a good start.

Here are some tips to get you going as you start new planting areas and rejuvenate existing ones:

  • Selecting plants.

Purchase plants that are healthy. Resist the urge to buy bargain-priced plants with suspicious-looking spots or holes on the leaves. Chances are some insect or disease is living on the plant.

A fungal growth on a plant shows up as concentric rings or a dark necrotic spot on the leaf. Diseases usually show up as random spotting on the foliage itself.

Pop small plants out of their pots and check their roots. Healthy roots are generally white and vigorous looking. If you take sickly plants home, you risk infecting other plants in your garden.

Select plants for the right growing conditions at your home. Before shopping, evaluate the light conditions in your gardens. Does the new bed you want to create adjacent to your patio get morning sun with afternoon shade - or all-day sun? Is the soil in that planting area light and loamy or do you need plants that tolerate a heavier soil?

Read plant labels at the garden center where you shop. If a label does not offer enough information about a plant's growing needs, research the plant before buying it. Local extension offices, knowledgeable staff at specialty garden centers and online gardening information sites can help you learn about plants.

  • Feed your garden.

Spring is the ideal time to feed the soil around your trees and shrubs.

As plants put out new growth in spring, their roots reach out into the soil around them, hoping to find lots of rich nutrients.

Time-released fertilizers with three-, six- and nine-month feeding formulas are convenient ways to feed plants. These products release nutrients slowly over time, so they do not produce excess runoff that pollutes our waterways.

Give plants the foods they need. For example, azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and gardenias prefer a plant food labeled for acid-loving plants. Spring-blooming bulbs can be fed a basic 10-10-10, while roses thrive on a systemic food that contains disease and pest deterrents.

Commercial-made fertilizers, however, often lack many of the trace elements important to plants, so look for organic fertilizers that also give your plants elements such as iron, boron, copper, zinc and manganese.

To provide your plants with balanced diets, use aged manures, leaf mold and compost you can create from household waste such as eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings and fruit remains.

  • Guard your garden.

Keep your garden clean and weed free to avoid many diseases and pests.

Always pick up and discard diseased leaves that fall to the ground, because they can easily infect nearby plants.

Keep a container handy so it's easy to pick weeds - roots and all - when you first see them.

It's simple to make your own trashcan for collecting weeds and other yard garbage, says master gardener Debbie Frecker. Drill holes in the bottom of a plastic or metal trashcan that you can drag around and toss in weeds, cones, gumballs and general non-composting yard debris as you go. When it rains or debris in the can gets slimy, the water drains out.

  • Diversify.

A garden of nothing but azaleas is pretty in spring, but after they bloom, you have nothing to enjoy the rest of the year. A yard filled with summer-blooming crape myrtles is stunning but during winter it looks bleak and barren without any evergreens.

Instead of specializing in just one type of plant, diversify your garden so you have interesting flowers, bark and foliage to enjoy throughout the year. A garden of winter-blooming camellias is just as exciting as a garden of summertime perennials.

Diversity in the garden also brings other benefits. Small-flowering trees and shrubs, perennials, herbs and annuals bring butterflies, birds and bees to pollinate and decorate your garden. A wide selection of nectar- and pollen-producing plants also means you attract good bugs to eat bad bugs.

Gardening offers a varying palette of color and form that changes with the seasons. Mix it up and experiment with new plants to find the look you want. You'll succeed with some, you may fail with a few. That's the nature of gardening.

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