I have circled the first day of spring on my calendar: March 20. The wonderful spring-like days in February cured my winter doldrums in a hurry. But I knew that this “false” spring could lead to disaster for all those plants that came out prematurely when the weather turned ugly again. Who can forget the March blizzard of 1993, or the “Easter freeze” when all the azalea blossoms turned to mush overnight?
It is mesmerizing to watch the plants wake up from winter sleep. Even the pansies buried under snow for days are covered in bright blooms. How great it would be if people could be as resilient as plants!
As much as the local Master Gardeners preach that fall is the best time for planting, full- and part-time gardeners fall victim to the immense assortment of plants available every spring. My desk is covered in catalogs. It seems every day another specimen is added to my credit card. I was in a big box store and bought one of almost every new perennial on the shelf. Can’t help myself.
I have been taking inventory of what may not have survived the winter. We had a tough winter: extended periods of bitter cold, snow and drought, and then too much rain.
Let us all enjoy some spring fun in the garden:
1. Clean up the dead plants and leftover foliage before the new growth begins to emerge.
2. Have power tools serviced; sharpen hand tools.
3. Remove old mulch and add a new layer to perk up your beds (no more than 2 to 3 inches).
4. Keep in mind the May rule of pruning: Plants that bloom after May should have been pruned in winter while they were dormant; plants that bloom before May should be pruned after they finish blooming. Pruning at the wrong time will deprive you of this year’s blooms.
5. Summer annuals begin to appear on the shelves long before it is time to plant them. Many are tropical in origin; both the air and the soil need to be warm enough for them to live and not rot. The last average frost date for our zone is April 15. I can remember a snow on April 6.
6. Summer vegetables should be planted during warmer days, not early cool spring ones. Tomatoes need a ground temperature of 65 degrees to grow and thrive.
7. Plant caladium bulbs after the middle of May, minimum. If the ground has not warmed, they will rot.
8. Allow the daffodil foliage to yellow and die on its own; removing, braiding or bending the leaves over with a rubber band robs the bulb of the energy to form a beautiful bloom next year. Snap off the spent flowers/seed pods to help the bulb use its energy on getting stronger instead of producing a seed.
9. April is a good time to divide fall-blooming perennials.
10. Tree Amigos Master Gardeners will have a plant sale on April 14 at Cane Creek Community Gardens, and the Longleaf Botanical Gardens volunteers will have their sale the first weekend in April. There will be many knowledgeable plant people at each sale to help the customers choose the right plant for the right place.
11. Allow tender plants to harden off, i.e., expose them to the elements gradually to toughen them up, before they are installed in the ground.
12.The enormous number and variety of plants can inspire gardeners to buy more than they can care for properly. (I am guilty.) Know your limitations for care and maintenance. Without proper maintenance, the neatest garden will be an unsightly and unhealthy jungle by the end of the summer.
13. Have a good idea how you will use a plant before a purchase. Not knowing what to do with that new plant is often the cause of too many plants getting put in the wrong place — a major cause of plant death.
14. Keep pansies deadheaded (that is, removing spent flowers) to encourage bloom. An extra dose of liquid fertilizer is a good thing for these cheery little annuals.
15. By the end of April and the first of May you can begin to plant your summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, etc. The soil temperature should be about 65 degrees to get them off to a good start.
16. Plant summer herbs. Basil should be planted after the last frost date. It is a wonderful pollinator herb that will attract the hard-working bees, and fresh basil is so much better than the kind in the jar. Plant plenty of parsley — some for the caterpillars that will turn into butterflies and plenty for the cook. Parsley can be planted much earlier than other herbs, as cold is its friend.
17. Hang hummingbird feeders. Keep them clean and stocked for your tiny visitors. And hang up several; hummingbirds are very territorial and will fight for drinking rights.
18. Take extra care to keep the weeds out of new flowerbeds and shrub beds.
19. Mow grass at the correct height for the type of lawn you have.
20. Take the time every day to check on your plants; watch for signs of disease and pests. Problems are easier to manage when they are small.
21. June is still spring, but by then the temperatures will have risen. Water deeply and carefully, especially any recent planting. (Here is when those personal limitations about care come into play.) Even drought-tolerant shrubs require water until they have settled in — at least two years. The best time to water is between 4 a.m.-9 a.m.
22. Spring, the season of renewal and awe, officially is over June 21. Love every minute of it.
Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.