We are all anxious to get outside in our yards so hopefully, Mother Nature has stopped fooling around with us. While it is only a couple of weeks from our last snow fall there are plenty of things we can do to prepare for this year’s garden season.
Spring is an excellent time to have a soil test. If you have never had a soil test and if you are thinking of digging a new garden, renovating your lawn or just changing what you are growing, a soil test is a good idea. It takes the guess work out of fertilizing or lime application based on what you want to grow. You can do a home soil test with a kit from the lawn and garden center, but these are not attuned to our soil characteristics nor can they provide recommendations for how to amend your soil based on what you are hoping to grow. The University of Minnesota has its own soil testing lab that can provide you with information on soil texture, organic matter, phosphorous, potassium and PH level of your soil and recommendations for how you can improve all of the characteristics. The cost of a soil test from the U of M is $17 but it can save you money in the long run by helping you avoid applying more fertilizer and other amendments than needed. *
If you did not do it last fall you should clean and disinfect all of your tools, pots and trellises before using them this spring to insure a lower risk of disease this year. This is especially important if you had visible signs of plant diseases in your garden last year. Many pathogens can overwinter in soil and debris on your tools or pots, and if you don’t clean them you can introduce the same diseases back into your garden this year. Start by removing all debris either by hand or with a blast of water from a hose. Then wipe out pots and spray or soak tools and trellises in disinfectant. You can buy disinfectants at garden stores but the easiest (and cheapest) is a 10 percent solution of bleach and water (one part bleach in nine parts water).
In the garden, push aside leaf mulch around the bulbs and perennials that are starting to emerge in your garden, but keep the mulch nearby in case of a late frost. Usually we say that the last spring frost is around mid-May, but there is evidence that this is actually shifting to an earlier date. According to meteorologist Dr. Mark Seeley, the data over the last 20 years indicates that the average last frost date is April 20! Of course remember that is only an average.
If you are cutting down perennials left from last fall consider leaving hollow stems 18” tall. The stems can serve as habitat for many pollinators such as stem nesting bees. The perennials will eventually grow up around the old stems and you won’t be able to see them.
You can plant ‘cool’ weather crops such as, cabbage, radishes, peas, lettuce, Brussel sprouts and broccoli as soon as the ground is workable. These vegetables need to mature before warm weather. To add some color it is also safe to set out pots of pansies as they are tolerant of light frosts. Save your warm weather crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, until after the last frost. I hesitate to say when that is but the important thing is to make sure the soil has warmed sufficiently so that your green house or indoor raised plants are not shocked when planted in too cold a ground.
The best thing you can do for your lawn is to stay off the grass until the ground has thawed, has dried and is firm. If your footsteps leave impressions in the grass then you should probably not be walking on it or you will be compacting the soil and the grass roots. Once the lawn is dry then you can get out there and start raking. The application of crab grass pre-emergence is also dependent on soil temperature. Crab grass seed germinates when the soil is between 55° and 60° F. You want to apply the pre-emergent no more than two weeks before the soil reaches the right temperature. Once again it is hard to give a precise date for this as it varies from year to year, however there is a very good tool developed by the University of Michigan at the website gddtracker.net. If you enter your zip code and click on the Crabgrass PRE tab it will give you a two-week window of ground temperatures for your location. You may want to check it out if you are planning to apply pre-emergent this spring.
A word of caution about oak wilt. Oak wilt is a fungal disease that kills thousands of oak trees every year. The fungus can be spread by the oak sap beetle or by root grafts from one tree to another. The high season for oak wilt is from now until the end of June. We have lost thousands of elms to Dutch Elm and ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer and we certainly don’t want to lose oak trees as well. If you are lucky enough to have an oak tree in your yard, safeguard your tree by avoiding pruning or any root disturbance of the tree during this high season for oak wilt. If your tree should accidently suffer a gash or open wound, cover it with shellac within 15 minutes of the injury to prevent the pathogen from entering the tree.
Let the gardening season begin!
*You can find out more about a soil test from the university at extension.edu.mn. Click on the gardening tab and search for soil test.