Spring Startup

Well the snows still here but spring season is just around the corner! Have you given a thought about your landscape needs?
Not only do we provide these services we want you to know about them to. Tips to care for your own landscape along the way.

Lets go over some of the most frequently asked Q & A.

When Is It Safe to Plant Annuals in Spring?
Local frost dates determine when it is safe to plant annuals and vegetables in a particular region. For annuals you will be transplanting from pots, six-packs or flats bought at the garden center, it's safe to plant when the last frost date is past.

For seeds that are expected to sprout in two weeks, plant the seeds two weeks prior to the last frost date.

Old-timers often have rules of thumb for planting times for a given area of the country. For example, in the Okanagan gardeners traditionally planted their annuals around (late May). Alternatively, you can find out when the projected last frost date is in your area by checking with your local region maps.

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How and When Should I Apply Lawn Fertilizers in Spring?
Slow-release lawn fertilizers are generally the best type to apply on your grass. That addresses the "how" part of the question. Bu what about the "when?"

Scotts provides a four-part schedule for you to go by if you wish to know, more or less precisely, when to apply lawn fertilizers, beginning with your spring grass. The best time to spread fertilizer on your lawn will depend on where you live and your grass-type. For much more about getting your grass ready in spring, consult "Spring Lawn Care."

Of course, if you prefer to shun conventional practice, the organic route is always a possible alternative: Use compost.

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How Often Should I Be Fertilizing Older Trees?
That older tree looming so large in your yard may seem to be beyond the need for tree fertilizers.

But that's not the case. So how often should you fertilize long-established trees? Some arborists recommend that you do several feedings a year but that you go lightly with each feeding. In fact, it is good advice in general to err on the side of less rather than more when fertilizing plants, since over-fertilizing can cause significant damage.

While you have fertilizing on your mind in spring, it is a good idea to hit your ground covers with fertilizer, too, after removing any fallen leaves, dead branches, and other refuse that has accumulated in them.

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What Do I Do With a Cover Crop Now That Spring Has Returned?
First of all, what is a cover crop? Cover crops are plants that are primarily planted not to be harvested for food but for soil erosion control, for weed control (in which case they are designated a "living mulch") and as a soil amendment (in which case they are synonymous with "green manure crops").

An example is winter rye.

From the landscape designer's perspective, the choice between various cover crops could be influenced by aesthetics, since the cover crop is, after all, taking the place of garden plants in between growing seasons. As such, it makes sense that it might be selected partly with an eye to its appearance, in addition to practical considerations. However, when plants are chosen to cover the ground based mainly on aesthetic considerations, they are no longer considered "cover crops." Instead, such plants are classified as ground covers. Furthermore, while most cover crops are planted with the intention of tilling them into the soil later, ground covers are not tilled into the soil.

Gardeners on large properties sometimes sow a cover crop on a vegetable garden or annual flower bed in the fall to protect the land in winter from erosion and to improve its soil. When spring comes and you are preparing the garden for planting again, you need to get the cover crops out of the way. But you can kill two birds with one stone: Rototilling cover crops both frees up the garden for spring planting and puts nutrients into the soil.

Mow cover crops first, then run the rototiller over the garden -- a process known as "tilling under" the cover crops. By mowing first, the garden tilling will go easier, since you will be tilling shorter vegetation. After mowing, spread compost over the same garden bed, and till that under, too, just as you would even in beds that did not have cover crops.

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When Do I Remove Mulch From Perennials in Spring?

Some gardeners wonder, "When do I remove mulch from perennials in spring? Or should I just let them push up through it on their own?" In order to answer that question in depth, we will have to step back a bit to review why we mulched these plants in the first place. But a short, general answer can be provided immediately:

If the mulch that you applied in fall consists of a coarse material, such as large, unshredded leaves, or if the mulch that you are using tends to mat down over time and form a barrier, then you should generally be removing that layer of mulch in spring at a time when the threat of severe cold has passed.

Tips on Mulching Perennials
If you are going to mulch plants in the fall, wait to do so until the soil has frozen. Generally speaking (and this will vary depending on a number of factors), apply a layer that is about 4 inches thick. Here are two of the reasons that the experts often give for mulching perennials:

Mulch supplies perennials with an insulating blanket that helps you "put them to bed" for the winter. Resting under the blanket of mulch, plants will not be tempted to wake up during premature warming periods and put out growth that would only be damaged when cold weather returns.
Drawing again on the principle of mulch being used as an insulator, gardeners attempting to grow a perennial that is considered cold-sensitive (or "borderline-hardy") in their region may be able to overwinter it with the help of a protective layer of mulch.
Reason #1 will be persuasive to those gardeners living in areas subject to great swings in temperature.

For example, some regions have long, cold winters that may, nonetheless, experience sudden thaws (after which winter returns with a vengeance). If you garden in such a place, you do not want your perennials being tricked into emerging from their sleep during one of these false starts; doing so would only expose them to danger.

Mulch will also help prevent damage that may occur due to heaving during freeze-thaw cycles.

Reason #2 affords a good reminder as to why it is important to research the plants that you are growing (or that you intend to grow). Some types of Coreopsis, for example, are very cold-hardy, while others are less so and may need the extra insulation given by a layer of mulch to survive the winter in your location.

Do note, however, that mulch is not always necessary for perennials. Here are some of the scenarios in which you may be able to get away with not mulching:

The plants in question are very cold-hardy.
The plants are well-established.
Your region is not subject to great swings in temperature during the off-season for gardening.
Moreover, perennials prone to crown rot (for example, delphinium) often die off during the winter not from extreme cold but from excessive moisture. What they most need to survive the winter is not insulation, but good drainage. In fact, since mulch helps the soil retain moisture, it may actually be counterproductive for such plants if it is piled up over their crowns.

When to Take Mulch Off Perennials: the Long Answer
To a large degree, getting the timing right for mulch removal requires you to be observant regarding your plants and the weather conditions where you live.

If your memory is not good, it helps to keep a garden journal from year to year.

But, after a while, all of this should become second nature for you. You will know when spring is "here for good" in your region, and you will know when your perennials are really supposed to be pushing up new growth for the year. When, based on past observations, the time has come for spring to wrest control from winter (that is, the chance of suffering a hard frost has passed) and for a particular perennial to emerge from its slumber, you should begin checking to see whether the ground is thawing or not. If the ground is thawing, leaving landscaping mulch on top of your perennial flowers can smother them or invite harmful molds -- so it is time to remove the mulch, to let your perennials breathe.

While perennials sometimes will successfully break through a barrier of mulch, other times damage will result.

Don't take a chance with the health of your perennial flowers!

Even if a covering of mulch does not completely smother a plant, it can, at the very least, disfigure its leaves. Part of the beauty of a plant is its foliage and stems (vegetation). If the vegetation has to struggle to push up through a layer of coarse mulch, doing so may take a toll on the appearance of its vegetation, initially. While no permanent harm is done, this does temporarily mar the visual display for you. Since enjoying the visual display to the fullest is the reason why you are growing the plant, this is not an unimportant consideration.

Once the perennial flowers have pushed up and have achieved a bit of height, then you can re-apply garden mulch around them to suppress weeds. Shredded leaves make for an excellent mulch because they are light and fluffy; they break down readily and -- when they do so -- release valuable nutrients into the soil.

Mulch Part II

What to Do With Old Mulch in Spring

Is Old Mulch Still Good to Use?
Vegetable garden beds and annual flower beds will not have plants in them during the winter but are mulched in fall to protect their soil from the harsh elements in winter. You have worked hard to build up the fertility of your garden soil, so you would not want gusty winds or torrents of water carrying any of it off, would you?

If the condition of the old mulch has not decomposed appreciably by the time spring comes, it will still be usable. How do you determine its condition? Well, scoop up some of the mulch in your hands. Has it more or less broken down into fine particles, so that it is no longer clearly distinguishable from dirt? In that case, it will no longer function very effectively as a mulch; it is time to replace it.

If, however, it has mostly retained the look and feel that it originally had, then you can re-use it. The one exception would be if your plants in this garden bed had experienced disease problems last year that you think can be traced back to the mulch; in which case you would want to remove and dispose of said mulch properly (check with the officials in your town to determine a proper way to dispose of such material).

If, upon inspection, you decide that the old mulch has not, in fact, decomposed appreciably, you should rake the old mulch aside for now so that you can prepare the planting bed. If you need to get it out of the way, shovel the mulch into a wheelbarrow, dumping successive loads onto a tarp off to the side. Apply compost onto the vegetable garden bed or annual flower bed, and till it under or work it into the soil with a spade.

Now you can see why my first instruction was to rake the old mulch aside: in the course of rototilling or spading the compost into the garden, the old mulch would have been tilled or spaded under, forcing you to acquire and apply new mulch. That would be a waste of time, energy and money.

Now put the old mulch back onto the planting bed.

This whole process can be completed well in advance of planting time. When it is time to plant, gently remove the mulch from just the area where you are sowing seeds or transplanting plants. With the mulch already in place in this manner, weeds never get much of a chance to emerge.

But what if the old mulch has, in fact, decomposed appreciably over the course of the winter? In that case, work it into the ground as organic matter so that it can serve as a soil amendment, along with the compost.

Then acquire a load of new mulch as a replacement.

What About "Living" Mulches (AKA Cover Crops)?
Although "cover crops" (which are so-called "living mulches) is terminology more often heard in agricultural circles than in landscaping circles, some homeowners may find cover crops quite helpful, so I will conclude with information on how to treat this special kind of "mulch" in spring.

Cover crops are sowed over vegetable garden and annual flower beds in the fall to protect them in winter. When spring returns and you are getting ready to plant again, you need to get a cover crop out of the way. But you can kill two birds with one stone: tilling cover crops under both frees up the garden for spring planting and puts nutrients into the soil.

Mow cover crops first, then run a garden tiller over the garden -- a process known as "tilling under" the cover crops.

By mowing first, the garden tilling will go easier, since you will be tilling shorter vegetation. After mowing, spread compost over the same garden bed, and till that under, too, just as you would with any beds that did not have cover crops.

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These are just some great spring start up tips to think about when digging those hands and feet into the garden! Call us for all your landscape needs and a free quote. 
- Nick, NV Landscape

Nicholas Karys