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Gardening: Spring into action in your garden

Mar./Apr. 2007 California Country magazine

Gardening tips for spring include vigilant weed and pest control as well as feeding plants and soil with good fertilizer.



March and April are such wonderful months in the garden. Springtime is when almost every corner of the garden is a flurry of activity. Weeds are popping up everywhere, fruit trees are blanketed with eye-catching blossoms, roses are blooming and bugs are everywhere.

Oh, it is a great time for sure, but it is not a time when one can be complacent. Nope, it is the time to be at full attention in the garden—or you and your plants will pay a hefty price later.

Weeds are one of the most obvious signs of spring. Initially they look so nice and green, they may escape destruction. But once the novelty wears off, they must be controlled. Weeds attract bugs, compete with your desirable plants for precious food and water, and eventually set seed and die, creating a whole new host of potential problems. It is the seed of so many weeds that ends up stuck to our socks, matted on our pets’ feet and ears or impaled painfully in our bare feet. The innocuous-looking groundcover weed that produces goat head thorns can even puncture bicycle tires.

Even though it is too late to control most weeds with a pre-emergent weed killer (an herbicide that kills weeds as they germinate), getting to them now with hands, a hoe or a spray of some kind will prevent some of the horrors caused by the above-mentioned seeds. Next January or February, putting down a pre-emergent weed killer or a thick layer of bark or compost will prevent many annual weeds from popping up and can save you a lot of time and effort.

Fruit and citrus trees are covered with blossoms and tender new growth sure to attract necessary bees for pollination, but almost certain to attract evil doers such as aphids that can leave your trees twisted and deformed.

Nobody wants their trees looking like this! Aphids are usually the first pests to invade our plants each spring. They arrive en masse and envelop the new growth, sucking out important plant juices and excreting a rich, sugary honeydew.

It is on this honeydew that the awful-looking black sooty mold grows. Black sooty mold is a symptom—a sign that your plant is being attacked by a sucking insect—and is usually accompanied by an army of ants, another symptom of trouble. Ants feed off the aphids’ excretions and even defend the aphids from beneficial insects and help spread the aphids to new areas. Aphids can be easily controlled with ladybugs, a sharp spray of water or many different types of sprays.

But whichever means you choose to control them, get them when they arrive. The longer you wait, the harder it is to control them!

It requires a lot of energy for plants to produce the most fruit, the biggest blossoms or just lots of growth, and keeping your plants healthy with regular applications of fertilizer will help them lead strong, healthy, productive lives. My favorite fertilizer is Gro-Power. This humic acid-based fertilizer not only feeds your plants, it also feeds your soil. Organic fertilizers that contain beneficial soil microbes such as Dr. Earth help a great deal as well. Feeding your soil as well as your plants will help your plants to do better in the long run with less work by you.

Always be vigilant—do a little work now and you can do much less work later. That is a good thing!

Gardening to-do list for March/April

The freeze of January burned back or killed many of our favorite plants. Now it is time to find out how badly damaged things really are. Cut back the freeze-damaged portion of the plants to where new shoots are popping out. If there are no new shoots, cut back branches until you come to fresh, green wood.

Thin stone fruit trees such as apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums to one piece of fruit every 3 to 5 inches when fruit is the size of your thumb tip. Thinning will yield fewer pieces, but ones that are larger and sweeter.

Begin feeding warm season grasses with a high-nitrogen fertilizer now to green them up after their long winter’s nap.

If you have little or no rain, begin watering established trees and shrubs once or twice a month—and new plantings more often.

Prepare soil for summer vegetables now so the ground will be inviting and ready for your plants and seeds. Add generous amounts of compost, worm castings and starter fertilizer, such as Gro-Power Flower ’n’ Bloom 3-12-12.

Begin gathering seeds and start them indoors now for your summer vegetable garden. Set them out as soon as the weather warms.


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