Early Spring Garden Tips

“I love spring anywhere,
but if I could choose,
I would always greet it
in a garden.”

~ Ruth Stout ~

We all look forward to the spring season with delight each year. The promise of warmer weather, more daylight, and all of those beautiful spring flowers is a welcome reward after a long winter of grey days, icy air, and shoveling snow. Soon trees and shrubs will be budding, bulbs and perennials will begin emerging from the ground, and our gardens will slowly come back to life once again. Though it’s still too early to plant, there’s plenty to do in the garden. Grab your garden tools, and let’s get started!

CARE OF GARDEN TOOLS — Speaking of garden tools, early spring is a good time to make sure they’re ready for the upcoming season. Check your gardening supplies so that you’ll have what you need in the spring. Gives your garden gloves a good wash and dry, or replace worn ones. Take time to clean all tools thoroughly, removing any residual soil, then inspect for damage or rust. If you do find rust, give those areas a good scrub with steel wool. It will be a long season of work for your garden tools, so it’s a good idea to have them sharpened at the beginning of the season. Echter’s can do that for you! Simply bring in your tools (and lawn mower blades), and for a nominal fee, we’ll sharpen them. If you need to replace or add to your garden tool arsenal, stop by. We’re well stocked with all kinds of garden implements — especially at the beginning of the year.

EARLY SPRING CLEANUP — Winter can be hard on your garden! Take a walk around your garden to assess any winter damage. Remove debris leftover from winter storms, and tidy up the garden beds and boxes. Clean up any dead annual or vegetable plants that remained over the winter. Trim back the tattered foliage or old bloom stalks of perennials to encourage new growth to come in. Cut back ornamental grasses as low as possible, so the old foliage won’t detract from the new growth. Don’t be in too big a hurry to remove mulches though. There are plenty of beneficial pollinators overwinter in gardens by hibernating in dried leaf piles and last-season’s perennial plants, and March can still be one of our snowiest months!

PREPARE YOUR SOIL — Now is a good time to add organic amendments like compost and peat moss. Rototill or spade into your garden soil to a depth of 6 inches.

PLAN YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN — A great vegetable garden starts with a great plan! Make a list of what you’d like to grow, how much area you have, and how many of each plant you’d like to grow. Check seed packets for plants’ mature sizes, sunlight and watering needs, and the yield of the veggies when planning. Then have fun mapping out and designing your planting areas!

IT’S TIME TO PRUNE — If you didn’t get to it in February, you can still do pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs in March. Some exceptions would be birch, maple, walnut, and elm. These should be pruned in mid-summer. In early spring, you can still easily see the branching structure of trees and shrubs before the leaves start coming in. Begin by removing the three Ds: anything dead, damaged, or diseased. Then move on to any crossed branches (branches that rub against another), water sprouts (branches that grow straight up from the branch), and suckers (branches that spring up from the base of the tree or shrub). Generally speaking, remove young branches that are growing inwards towards the center of the tree as opposed to outwards. Use a pole pruner to reach branches up to about 15 ft. off the ground. Pruning paints and wound dressings are not recommended on the pruning cuts. If you missed it, here’s a deeper dive into late-winter pruning.

GET STARTED ON SOME EARLY LAWN CARE — As in other areas of the garden, begin by checking for any problems that may have developed. Once the snow has melted off your lawn, check the turf in shaded areas for snow mold, a fungus that is white to pink in color and grows on the surface of the grass blades. If you see evidence of snow mold, lightly rake the affected areas and dispose of the debris. Any remaining mold should dissipate on its own after that.

LAWNS SHOULD BE CORE AERATED once or twice each year. That’s done by poking holes in the ground and pulling out plugs. This reduces soil compaction and helps control thatch in lawns while also helping water and fertilizer move into the root zone. Schedule your lawn for an aeration in March, and prepare by marking your sprinkler heads to avoid having them damaged. Water the lawn the day before aerating, so it will be softer and easier to pull plugs. Then water again after aeration to help the lawn recover. Leaving the plugs on the surface will help break down the thatch that has accumulated.

GET A HEAD START ON WEEDS — You can begin to get ahead of weeds by choosing a lawn fertilizer with a pre-emergent as your first feeding of the year. This will prevent annual weed seeds from germinating, and give your lawn a chance to thicken up and discourage weeds on its own. It’s best to apply these after aerating the lawn. This is important because aerating after a pre-emergent will greatly reduce its effectiveness!

OVERSEEDING — As the weather begins to reliably warm up in March, you can begin overseeding thin areas of lawn. Rake areas to be seeded to expose and loosen the soil, then apply a thin layer of Nature’s Yield Compost . Use a high-quality seed blended for your conditions. Echter’s has many different blends to choose from. A hand spreader will help to apply the seed evenly. After seeding, be sure to keep the surface area moist until the seed is well germinated.

PLANT COLD-HARDY CROPS — While it’s too early to plant tender, warm-season plants, it is time to plant some early cold-hardy crops. Things like onion sets, bare-root strawberries, asparagus roots and seed potatoes can be sowed directly into the vegetable garden in March. Be sure to keep a frost blanket handy for any late-season frosts, just to be on the safe side.

START SEEDS INDOORS — Now is the time to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, alyssum, lobelia, pansy, and geranium seeds inside for planting out later in the spring. Start tomatoes and peppers inside now, then they’ll be ready to transfer to the garden beds in late May.

PREPARE BIRDHOUSES FOR THE BUSY SPRING SEASON — Returning birds will be looking for real estate soon! In preparation for the new arrivals, clean out and sterilize last year’s birdhouses, or put up new ones. Make sure any older birdhouses are still firmly mounted as well. It’s a good time to perform bird feeder maintenance too. Clean out all feeders and fill with fresh seed. You may also want to consider creating a pile of nesting materials to make your yard extra inviting for this year’s visitors.

The Grass Can Be Just as Green on Your Side of the Fence

Having a healthy, lush lawn isn’t as difficult as you might think. Follow these easy steps and your lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Core Aeration – Core aeration is recommended in the spring and again in the fall. It is best to have some moisture in the soil at the time of aeration.  Core aeration is simple, cost-effective and very beneficial to your lawn. It helps to reduce soil compaction, promote root growth and reduce a buildup of thatch. Lawn aeration will greatly improve a lawn if scheduled on a yearly basis.  Aeration allows water and fertilizer to get down to the root zone. It will help to reduce the thatch layer which blocks water, oxygen and fertilizer from penetrating to the root of the plant.

Fertilize – 4 times a year

Early Spring – late March to mid-April. This is the ideal time to include a pre-emergent application on your lawn.  Pre-emergents create a gaseous barrier that prevents annual weed seeds from germinating.  If you plan to overseed or reseed areas of your lawn, avoid using a fertilizer that contains a pre-emergent.  Otherwise, your lawn seed will not germinate.   If you plan to aerate the lawn, do so before applying pre-emergents.  Aeration after application will reduce the effectiveness of the pre-emergent, significantly.

Late Spring – late May to mid-June.  Choosing a fertilizer that contains a broadleaf weed herbicide can be helpful, at this time.  It will take care of those pesky dandelions and thistles.

Mid-Summer – mid-July to mid-August.  Like the previous application, a fertilizer with a broadleaf weed herbicide will continue to protect your lawn from dandelions.

Fall – late September to mid-October.  A winterizer is ideal at this time.  Lawn Winterizers are designed to release nutrients slowly, prepare your lawn for the harsh weather to come and build sturdy, healthy turf.  This is the most important fertilizer application to protect your lawn and shouldn’t be missed.

Watering

Under normal circumstances , 1 inch of water per week is sufficient to maintain your lawn.  Apply 1/2 ” of water at each watering.  During consistent extreme heat, 1 ½ inches of water per week is ideal.   Apply 3/4″ of water, twice weekly during these times.

Check your watering system by running a zone for your allotted time and measure your output by putting out some shallow containers.  Adjust your time to allow for adequate water output.

Early morning watering is preferred, before 10 a.m. if possible.  Watering in the mid-day heat means much of the moisture will be lost to evaporation.  Evening watering can contribute to the risk of fungal disease in the lawn and garden.

Mowing

Adjust your mower height 2 to 3 inches  and keep blades sharp.  A well maintained mower can make all the difference.  Dull blades shred the grass tips, creating stress.  Stressed lawns are easy targets for disease and insects.

The most common fungal disease in lawn is Ascochyta Leaf Blight. It is caused by drought stress or inefficiencies in irrigation systems.  Ascochyta is a fungus that lives on the leaf blade.  It enters the leaf blade through the cut end (when you mow).  It causes the blade to turn a straw color and wither to a point.  It seems to coincide with periods of cool weather followed by hot, dry conditions. 

Fungicides are ineffective on Ascochyta – focus on irrigation system.  Look for broken or tilted heads, adjust the spray/arc of your sprinkler stream to get more uniform coverage and water appropriately.

If you are trying to control and suppress any kind of fungal disease in your lawn it is recommended that you use an organically based fertilizer that is lower in slow release nitrogen.