Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Itching to get Gardening? What you Can Do Now.

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Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, sunny days here (Ottawa, zone 4/5) are making me itch to get into my gardens.

Use Caution!

It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.

The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fall for the past few years, so I am one step ahead.

You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.

Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.

Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across one a few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds, when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved onto another area of the garden.

What can You Do This Early?

Prune Trees

You can prune trees now, in fact this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Just do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms. And, if you have to trample all over your soggy lawn to get to the trees to prune them, perhaps you better wait for a few weeks.

Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy and create a workout for your arms.

If cut branches are diseased, wipe lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcolol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.

Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. This will ensure the new green shoots (when they appear) wont have to compete with the dead brown ones.

Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.

Plan and Dream

This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!

Get Ahead of Crabgrass

If crabgrass is making an appearance in your lawn, treat it quick! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.

I have tried corn gluten, a preemergent, with varying results; the biggest problem is finding it in the stores so early. Scotts has a product out with good reviews for treating crabgrass. I have yet to try it.

This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.

Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.

If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Rinse them out and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.

If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.

Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.

Change up Your Outdoor Decor

Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!

Start Some Seeds

Non-hardy seeds should be started at least six weeks before your last frost date, so this is a great time to get them going. I have learned a few tips over the winter regarding seedlings. Stay tuned for a future post on that subject, coming soon.

Conclusions

While it is still too early to really get started, there are a few things you can do to scratch that gardening itch.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post next week on the next steps in spring cleanups.

Posted in current events, gardening, weather

April showers bring May flowers; the advantages of spring rain

The rain in the weather forecast for the next 10 days here in Ottawa brings the saying  “April showers bring May flowers” to mind.  The rain showers will water the spring bulbs and perennials, encouraging their bloom.  A few days of rain makes the lawns so much greener too.  All the rain showers and cool weather forecasted this spring is also good for planting grass seed or fertilizing your lawn and trees.

There are many products available for spring treatment, some with just seed, some with just fertilizer, and some that combine seed and fertilizer.

Some combinations for your lawn even add peat which is beneficial in keeping the soil rich by absorbing moisture.  These combination products can be a good thing for novice landscapers and home owners, as the research is done for you.  The proper type of fertilizer and the amount to use is calculated for you.

Corn gluten is a popular, organic, pre-emergent treatment for crab grass.  Pre-emergent means it should be applied before the crab grass seeds germinate (start to grow) very early in the spring, as soon as the snow is gone from the lawn.  I use corn gluten on my lawn in the fall, after the first frost, but before the first snow fall.  I have found this practice convenient (one less thing to do in the spring) and most effective against crabgrass.

Fertilizer spikes are efficient ways to feed your trees.  Make sure you choose the proper product package for your trees though.  There are packages for evergreens (pine, spruce, cedar etc), ornamental trees (crab apple, lilacs etc) fruit trees (apple, plum etc) and other popular trees (maple, elm etc)    Simply pound the spikes in the ground around the perimeter of your tree’s dripline as specified in the package directions.  Obviously, the larger the perimeter of your tree’s dripline (the outer edge of branches), the more spikes you need.  It is best and easiest to pound these spikes into the ground when the ground is wet and more rain showers are in the forecast.

Make the most of the forecasted rain; your lawn and trees will thank you!

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, nature

Spring Cleaning your Gardens and Lawn

Just like the inside of your home, your gardens and lawn will benefit from a good spring cleaning too. As soon as the snow disappears from your lawn and garden you can start the spring cleaning.

Spring Lawn Care

When your lawn is dry (not spongy to walk on) give it a good rake to remove all the dead grass and leaves. Core aeration is recommended after raking to allow oxygen and nutrients to penetrate into the root system of your lawn, especially if your soil is heavily compacted.(as most lawns are in this area) Core aeration is also effective in the fall, one less thing to do in spring.

If your lawn has a lot of crabgrass and broad leaf weeds (dandelions) you can treat it to a weed and feed product.  The ones containing corn gluten are particularly effective if used before the weed seeds have a chance to germinate.  I sprinkle corn gluten right on the snow when there is only a small amount of snow left on my lawn, because as soon as the snow is gone, the weeds start to germinate and within a few days the crab grass growth is visible.  

You can also overseed your lawn now (but only if you have NOT applied something for weeds, otherwise wait 6 weeks to seed) by raking in topsoil and sprinkling grass seed on the soil.  This is best done before a rainy spell as the seeds should be kept wet until they germinate.

Clean Debris out your Gardens

Your gardens can also use a good raking early, but be sure to use a plastic rake and a gentler touch, so tender dormant perennials are not damaged.  Remove all the dead, but still intact leaves, last year’s annual (annuals are plants that you must replant each year) plantings and the twiggy pieces of last years growth on the perennials (perennials are plants that come back on their own each year).  Generally speaking, if the twiggy pieces break off easily with a gentle rake, it is safe to remove them.  

Woodier perennials (lavender, sage, hibiscus etc) need a bit more time to rebound from winter and should not be cut back until new growth is visible.

Prune Shrubs, Divide and Plant Perennials

Shrubs that bloom in summer or fall (weigela, pink spirea, burning bush etc) can be pruned in early spring, while those that bloom early in spring (forsythia, lilacs, magnolia etc) should not be pruned until after they bloom.

Dividing perennials is best done this time of year too; dig up the overgrown clumps, divide them with a sharp spade, and plant in their new locations.  Fill in bare spots with new perennials. These jobs can be done as soon as the ground thaws.

Annuals however, should not be planted until the danger of overnight frost is gone, usually late May in this area.

Amend Your Garden Soil and add Mulch

Once all of my perennials have re-emerged, the weeds and old annuals are removed, and the necessary pruning is done, I like to amend the soil around them with soil, compost and peat moss. This triple mix product can be purchased already combined.  

A layer of cedar mulch (I prefer the dark brown or black) is the final touch, but to prevent your plants from rotting, be sure not to apply the mulch too close to the base/stalks/stems of the plants.

Finishing Touches

The last step is to retrieve the outdoor furniture and whimsical touches from their winter storage. Then enjoy the most important part, take a few minutes out of your busy life to sit down, relax and admire your efforts…