Every little ounce of sunshine has us yearning to clean up the yard and garden, but starting too early may do more harm than good. Last weekend’s snow and single digits are a great reminder, and there may be more winter in store for us yet this year.
Judging by the questions I received last week, lawns and landscapes are top priority right now. Many people are ready to fertilize, and some are afraid that they have already waited too long to apply crabgrass preventer. Others are ready to prune shrubs, clean up perennials and start working the soil.
Here are the top tips for spring care of lawns and gardens:
Lawns: Spring fertilization of lawns causes excessive growth and promotes disease and weeds, according to Kansas State University. Other universities agree: September is the best time to fertilize your fescue (the most common and best-adapted turf in our area) lawn. Fertilizing in November produces the much-desired early spring green-up.
What you should do for your lawn in the spring: Core-aerate compacted soils, seed bare areas, control broadleaf weeds and mow as needed. If you wish to apply crabgrass preventer, do it when redbud trees approach full bloom. April 15 is a good target date, but pay attention to the trees, and read and follow all label directions.
If your lawn is irrigated, apply a slow-release fertilizer in May. Remember that too-frequent watering leads to shallow root systems. Watering deeply and infrequently produces healthier plants.
Landscape: Plant trees, clean up irises to reduce fungal leaf spot problems, work compost into the soil and apply mulch to maintain a 2-4-inch layer. Wait to prune roses and butterfly bushes until new buds appear. Prune shrubs that bloom in the spring (lilacs, quince, etc.) after they bloom; shrubs that bloom in the summer can be pruned when buds appear. Remove the dead foliage from perennials when new shoots appear at the base of the plant. Trees can also be pruned now, but remember that if they are spring-flowering varieties, you will remove blossoms.
Remove dead pine trees as soon as possible to help slow the spread of pine wilt disease. Beetles that transmit the causal agent for the disease typically emerge around the first of May in search of new trees.
Vegetable and fruit gardens: This is a good time for soil preparation — incorporating compost, fertilizer, etc., but avoid tilling if the soil is wet. When checking the moisture level, you might want to dig around a little because soil tends to contain more moisture below the soil surface. Ideally, the soil will crumble easily in your hand.
Many cool-season crops can be planted this month, too. Potatoes, lettuce, spinach, radishes, broccoli, peas and turnips are popular spring choices. Wait to plant warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans and squash until the first part of May.
My spring to-do list also includes sharpening the blades on the mower, raking piles of leaves out of corners, turning the compost pile and barbecuing on the patio while I enjoy the daffodils.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent–Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058.