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Early spring gardening and lawn care preparation can mean the difference between lush foliage versus greenery that looks tired. Throughout fall and winter, your garden and lawn collect debris. Debris often includes sticks, dead leaves, and even litter blown into the yard by wintry winds. All winter mulch should be removed. When adding new mulch over top of existing mulch, make sure the total depth does not accumulate to more than 3 to 4 inches, as too mulch is detrimental to your plants.
Plants will thrive in almost any well-drained soil. Once the soil has dried out, aerate the soil with a narrow fork or hoe taking care not to damage roots. Add compost or any organic material to loosen heavy clays or retain water in light sandy soil. Most plants prefer slightly acidic soil, a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5. If the pH is too low (acidic) add lime. If it is too high (alkaline), add sulphur.
Refer to labels on plants or packages for proper sunlight requirements. Full-sun plants prefer a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day. Shade-loving plants prefer no more than 4 to 6 hours of morning sun or dappled light under trees. Do not place plants where there is sun between noon and 3 pm. Most plants will adapt to a partially shady location. If leaf burn occurs, move plant by end of June.
Perennials can be started now from seed in April. This includes asclepias (milkweed), baptisia, (false indigo), callirrhoe (poppy mallow), hepatica, hosta, and hyssopus (hyssop) and solidago (goldenrod). Check carefully packet instructions and propagation guidelines. Perennials can also transplanted when new leaf growth is 3 to 4 inches high, including Japanese anemone, yarrow, hosta, astilbe, phlox, asters, black-eyed susan, chrysanthemums, and daylilies. Use the double-fork method to split the crown.
Prune shrubs that flower on this year's new stems, such as summer-flowering spirea, roses, dogwoods (Cornus), honey suckles (Lonicera), and evergreen climbers.
For fertilizing, incorporate 5-10-5 or 10-6-4 fifty percent (50%) slow-release fertilizer into the soil during soil preparation for transplants and new plantings. Do not simply toss a handful of the fertilizer into the planting hole because it will burn the roots. Spread slow-release fertilizer around ornamental plantings, trees, shrubs, and perennial beds. Fertilize your roses. Mid-April is the time for the first application.
If a late hard frost is expected after flower buds on some shrubs have started to swell, cover with a sheet, drop-cloth or newspaper.
Set out transplants for cool season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, edible-pod peas, spinach, kale and onions. Make sure they are hardened-off before planting in the garden in mid to late month. Lettuce and other salad greens can be planted, but you will want to have a row cover fabric. Warm season transplants like tomato require careful hardening off. Set seedling trays outside during the day in a protected area and water, as needed. Begin a week or two before planting out. Ideally, the soil temperature should be above 55 degrees before planting. Otherwise, the seedlings will take longer for major growth to get started. It takes about 6 weeks to grow transplants for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. The first week in April gives you about the right amount of time to plant seeds to be ready to plant out in the middle of May. Water newly planted transplants and seeds that have been set out. Make sure transplants are moist before they go in the ground. If it does not rain, water seed daily until they germinate. Seedlings indoors are still best watered from the bottom.
It is important to remember that herbicides for crabgrass control work by preventing seed from germinating. Therefore, it needs to be applied before seeds germinate. A good rule of thumb is to apply half the recommended pre-emergent crabgrass control when the forsythias and Bradford pear trees bloom. Apply the other half 6 to 8 weeks later. Rake and aerate the lawn. Mow lawn as soon as necessary. Do not let the grass get higher than 4 inches. Mow to a length of 2 to 3 inches.
Early summer is an ideal time to plant containers, such as patio pots, window boxes, and hanging baskets. All threat of frost has passed along with the passing of spring, so you can safely put containers outside. Don't forget to feed container-bound plants as the summer progresses.
This is also listed as a spring chore, but you should continue to dead-head flowers that have passed throughout the summer (this increases bloom time and strengthens the plant). Pay special attention to dead-heading flowers that self-seed once they have passed so that you maintain control over where they spread in your garden. If you want to propagate certain plants, you can save the flower heads for planting at a later date.
Keep a close watch over your garden for any sign of pests so that you can move quickly and take action before the problem spreads out of control. On roses especially, keep an eye out for aphids and mildew. This is also a good time to reapply pepper wax or whatever you might be using to keep the deer, rabbits and other big pests away too.
Staking & Support
Put stakes and supports in place for tall, herbaceous plants, like peonies and delphiniums. This will prevent them from falling over or look messy as they grow taller and heavy with blooms with the progressing season. Likewise, as climbers display new growth, be sure to position them on a support system in order to maintain control over where they grow and prevent an untidy appearance.
Don't forget to keep up with your watering, especially as the very hot weather sets in. If you don't water enough, roots will stay near the surface, making them even more prone to the heat. An inch of water a week is a good rule of thumb, so don't just spritz, water deeply to keep those roots digging deeper.
Mid-summer is the time to plant bulbs that will bloom in the fall, such as colchicum. Wait for late summer to plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring.
Now that all threat of frost is gone, early summer is a perfect time to sow hardy annuals, such as lupines, outdoors in the garden. You can also sow biennials, such as forget-me-nots. These hardy plants are easy to grow outdoors from seed.
Time to get those tomatoes and other frost sensitive plants in the ground! Know the frost date for your area (check with your local extension service) and as soon as it's safe, get things started. More time in the ground means bigger and quicker harvests.
Although many shrubs do not require pruning, some shrubs that flower in the spring and early summer, such as lilacs, will greatly benefit from pruning once they have finished flowering. This keeps them looking lovely season after season. Refer to the appropriate page in the web site for pruning tips; a good rule of thumb is prune right after things bloom and you're always safe from pruning off flower buds.
Don't mow your lawn very short when it is hot. Never remove more than a third of the length of the grass blades in one cut, otherwise grass needs a huge amount of energy to re-grow. If you are going away on holiday, cut the lawn before you go. Don't cut it very short, as this will cause it stress. Weak grass cannot compete well with invading weeds and moss and will suffer. During the hot spells of summer drought established lawns may actually turn brown and look dead. Unless your lawn has been recently re-sown from seed or re-turfed, it is very unlikely to be killed by drought and will quickly recover when rain falls. Watering the lawn may create instant visual results, but is often unnecessary and can create problems. Unless you can be sure to thoroughly soak a dry lawn, it is actually better not to water it at all. A well-prepared lawn that has been properly fed and treated during the spring is better able to withstand and recover from drought.
A number of herbs and vegetables grow well in the cooler temperatures of fall, including parsley, chives, mustard, dill, coriander, snap beans, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, onions, radishes, turnips, beets, rutabaga and others. The right time for planting depends on the plant type, variety and form (seed or transplant). Late summer mulching can extend the growing season a short while.
Plant spring-blooming bulbs in the fall. Crocuses, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and other “fall bulbs” are great choices. For best results, plant them root-end down in a sunny location with good drainage, water them, and then mulch them after the ground freezes. Some tropical plant bulbs (rhizomes, corms and tubers) that grow well in the Midwest’s hot, humid summer cannot survive its cold, harsh winter. Dahlias, caladium, canna, elephant ear, gladiolas and certain types of begonias should be gently dug up and stored in a cool, dry, frost-free place (a bucket or box in your garage that contains some peat moss, for example) until next spring when it’s time for replanting.
When certain types of perennials get too large, they are not as productive. Fall is the perfect time to divide them because temperatures are cooler, and plants have time to create new roots. Dig them up at the drip line, slice down through the center and then quarter the clump. Spread them out when you replant, choosing the healthiest plants first. Keep them well watered but don’t drown them. Perennials that bloom in late summer and fall should be divided in the spring.
Trees and Shrubs
Mid-August through mid-October can be a good time for transplanting certain trees and shrubs. Warm soil temperatures and stable moisture levels promote good root growth before winter. When selecting or moving a tree or shrub, make sure it’s one that can be successfully planted in the fall. Certain conifers do better when planted in late summer or early fall, and there are several hard-to-establish species that you should avoid planting in autumn altogether.
Fall is the best time to add compost to your garden soil. You can also use grass clippings combined with dead leaves. Be sure to mix it into the soil after the first hard frost but before the ground is frozen. If you don’t have your own compost, purchasing peet from your local garden center is a good alternative.
Because the soil is still warm and workable and the weather is pleasant, fall is ideal for any type of garden construction, including edging, raised beds, rock gardens, etc.
Any time you spend weeding in the fall can help reduce the number of bothersome weeds that normally appear in the spring. Completing this task in the fall can allow you to have more time come spring to enjoy your flowers.
The freezing and thawing process associated with season changes can cause problems for plants. Applying a good layer of mulch – such as grass clippings, hay or straw, leaves, pine needles or landscaping mulch after the first hard frost will help keep soil temperatures cold and prevent delicate roots from getting damaged if they become exposed.
Now is the perfect time to aerate your lawn, digging holes 2 to 2.5 inches deep for depth will insure that fertilizer and seed can get a head start. Make sure to watch your spacing too. Holes should be about 3 to 5 inches a part.
During the first part of September, try to put down some fresh seed. Having a thick lawn helps to combat issues with crab grass and clover leaf. Make sure to watch what type of seed your are purchasing. Some prefer thick-leaved grass and others like the thin blade grass. It really comes down to your preference. With cooler fall temperatures and some additional watering, you will be able to see the new grass blades in a matter of a couple of weeks.