Spring tasks to get your garden growing

It’s been a long winter

Many of us in the North experienced one of the snowiest winters that we’ve had in years. Cool temperatures are continuing even though it’s already officially spring. I’d say that this year we’re probably going to be two or three weeks behind on our normal Spring gardening tasks.

Normally the snow is gone, or just about gone, by this time in March. In fact I usually have crocus’ and snowdrops blooming by now. However, if you experienced the same winter I did your garden is likely still buried under snow!

Still … it’s time to think about Spring gardening tasks.

I’m sure some of you have already started cleaning up your garden and preparing for the season ahead. Those of us that are still unable to get out into the garden, well … we can at least make sure that our gardening tools are in order, oil and sharpen our pruners and purchase any supplies that we need so that we’ll be able to catch up once the snow finally melts!

Spring Tasks

  • As I stated above, this is a great time of year to maintain your gardening tools by cleaning, sharpening and oil pruners, having your lawnmower blades sharpened, buying new gardening gloves and any other items that you might need throughout the coming months.
  • Once the grass is no longer wet and the soil in your garden beds dries out begin your outdoor tasks by raking the lawn to get rid of leaves, twigs and other debris that has accumulated in your yard thanks to winter winds.
  • Rake the dead growth from your lawn.
  • If you have damaged or bare patches on your lawn purchase some grass seed and re-seed those areas. Be sure to scratch the soil with a rake first and then apply grass seed to the area. Lightly cover the seed with a thin layer of soil and be sure to keep the area well watered until the seeds germinate and new grass begins to appear.
  • If you protected your shrubs, trees or any garden plants over winter it’s time to remove the winter protect. As the air warms it’s very important that your shrubs and trees have good air circulation around them. Leaving burlap or other forms of winter protect on too long can lead to bark rot.
  • This is also a great time of year to plant new trees, shrub, roses and other hardy dormant plants. Also if you have any trees or shrubs that you’d like to transplant elsewhere in your yard do it before they begin to leaf out.
  • Many trees and shrubs benefit from a spray of dormant oil as this helps to control scale insects and other overwintering pests. Euonymus, magnolias, crabapples and other fruit trees should be sprayed when their buds are in swell.
  • Take a good look at your garden beds and if you notice that any of your plants have come up out of the earth to the freeze and thaw cycles at this time of year. Replant any heave-ho victims as soon as possible. Most will recover nicely if you find them and replant while it’s still cool.
  • Wait until temperatures are reliably warm before you begin to remove mulch and cut back plants such as roses, evergreen plants and shrubs. You can cut off obviously dead branches but don’t cut into live branches until there’s no chance of frost or a return of cold weather. If you aren’t sure what to cut then just wait until it’s a little warmer and your plant is showing obvious signs of growth. Once you do feel it’s time to prune it’s best to prune plants such as roses before they leaf out.
  • Clear your garden of the previous seasons dead plant material such as dead leaves and other debris as they can harbor molds and overwintering pests.
  • Ornamental grasses can be cut back at this time as well.
  • Don’t overwork your garden beds by digging too early. The soil structure is delicate and if you dig in it while it’s still wet you can damage it’s composition. Soil should fall apart when you pick up a handful. If it sticks together in a clump wait until it dries out a bit more.
  • Once the soil has dried out you can begin to dig garden beds, add manure, compost and prepare for the planting of new perennials, annuals and vegetables.
  • Weeds will likely be some of the first green growth you see in your garden. Pluck them out now while they are still young and their roots are shallow. It will mean less work for you later on!
  • Don’t forget to care for your houseplants. The winter months can be hard on house plants as the air is often dry inside the house due to forced air heating. The light levels have also been lower too. Perhaps take a few moments to pick off any dead leaves, top up their soil and lightly fertilize your houseplants so they too will have a great spring start.

Happy Gardening!






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Time to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas Cactus’

I have two cactus like plants. One is a Thanksgiving Cactus and the other is of the same species, Schlumbergera, and is known as a Christmas Cactus.

christmas cactus

General care for plants of the Schlumbergera species is to give them moderate to bright light in the Spring and Summer months. Lighting depends upon exactly which species you own.

I’ve found that these cactus can burn in direct bright sunlight so I generally put mine outside in the summer time in an area where they only get bright direct sunlight for a couple of hours. The rest of the lighting they receive is usually fairly bright but not direct.

Come mid-September this year I moved my two cactus’ to my enclosed front porch. The porch faces north so the light levels are very low from September through to April or so.

Generally, to get these plants to flower when they are supposed to flower you should put them in a cool dark place from Mid September through October and barely water them if at all during that time. At the end of October you can bring them out of the darkness and place them in a fairly bright area of your home and water them as you normally would.

Occasionally fertilizing the plants through summer and a weak dose of fertilizer shortly after you bring them out of dormancy might help them to flower as well.

I experimented a bit this year.

You see, my Thanksgiving Cactus is about 6 years old and it’s always been a fairly good flower producer. My Christmas Cactus on the other hand, which is treated almost exactly the same as the Thanksgiving Cactus, is rather stingy when it comes to flowering.

When my mother died in 2004 my sister and I each took one of the 50+ year old Christmas Cactus. We knew one flowered better than the other. Guess which one my sister got? She just has to look at it and it flowers! I’m so jealous!

This year instead of bringing the cactus’ to the cool dark basement in Mid-September I put them in the enclosed front porch as I said early. Their lighting was diminished and they got the benefit of the cool late summer nights while on the porch.

It was only two weeks ago when outside night time temperatures were starting to come close to zero or lower that I brought them inside to the dark basement.

Checking on them today in the basement I noticed that both cactus have tiny flower buds on the tips of their thick succulent leaves. It looks like my experiment might have worked!

Now I do have to confess that I made a real rookie move that I should have known not to do.

The Christmas cactus is old and as a result it’s HUGE. Like 3+ feet in diameter. How can you bring that into the living room or kitchen and place it somewhere where it won’t be disturbed and where it will bloom prettily?

Christmas Cactus

I trimmed it! I really should have waited until the plant finished blooming before I trimmed off the newer growth. By trimming it before it flowered I might have destroyed it’s ability to bloom this year. Oh well … it’s not like I’m used to that Cactus blooming much anyway.

Of course I only trimmed a little bit off the edges. It’s still more than two feet in diameter. If you’d like to trim your Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus’ wait until they’ve finished blooming and then only trim a little bit of the soft newer green growth from the tips. Do not trim back to the older woody growth as that could damage the plant. Also, never trim too much off of any plant at one time as that could send it into shock.

I’ll let you know if the Christmas cactus blooms well, poorly or barely at all this year as a result of my experiment and my too early trimming!

I’ve brought both plants up and put them on tables or stands in my living room dining room and upon close inspections both have a fair number of buds. Perhaps the Christmas Cactus will bloom well, if early, this year?

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Still recovering from my trip and starting to winterize the garden

I’ve had a heck of week or three between being sick before I went to Vegas and getting even sicker while I was there. I’m still not up to par but I’m doing a lot better today than I have in more than a week. I think …

We got home early Monday morning and my husband had been wise enough to have both Monday and Tuesday off work. He tried going out in the garden on Monday afternoon to disassemble the patio furniture and start putting it away but it was cold, gloomy and rained quite a bit that day so he didn’t get very far.

Tuesday was a different story. It was very nice outside and while I was lying on the couch still feeling ill he decided to go outside and finish what he’d started the day before. He also managed to mound some soil around the base of ALL of our many roses in order to give the roots, graft and the first foot or so of above ground growth a bit of winter protection.

Hopefully over the weekend we’ll both get out into the garden.

I’d like to trim some of the roses that have very long branches that I know will die over winter. If I trim them a bit I can more easily protect what’s left with a large pile of leaves and some burlap wrapped around the roses. Then when spring comes all I’ve got to do is take the burlap off and digg out the leaves and if it’s anything like previous years there will be very little winter damage to the rose branches and if I’m really lucky the stems might even still be green.

Most of our roses are fairly hardy, but I have a feeling this is going to be a brutal winter so I want to be sure to protect the plants. We lost a few roses last year because we didn’t do any winter protection. It was a mild winter but we had very little snow so the cold, ice and frost damage might have been even worse than if we had had a good snow cover.

Have you begun to winterize your garden yet? Or do you even think about protecting your plants at all?

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