Tips on getting your garden green for spring

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/ Source: TODAY

Although it may not seem like, spring is just days away -- and now's the time to get your garden in shape. “Today” gardening expert, Rebecca Cole,  share tips on pruning and planting bulbs and annuals.

Checklist for spring:

  • Uncover any plants that you may have wrapped to protect from frost
  • Remove mulch
  • Rake out beds to remove any debris: leaves, twigs, pine cones. Be cautious when raking, and on the lookout for emerging sprouts.

Check for dead plants and remove if necessary. Make sure they are really past saving, and not simply dormant. A good way to do this is to get in there with your pruning sheers.

When to prune

Even if you pruned last fall, chances are you’ll need to do some touch up pruning on your perennials. And if you forgot to prune last fall, now is the best time to prune most of your perennials with the exception of early bloomers. Early bloomers such as Lilacs, Azaleas, Cherry Trees or Dogwoods should only be pruned after they flower. 

Now, before they flower, is the perfect time to prune later flowering perennials including tall beautiful grasses like Fountain Grass, Buddleia and Hibiscus.

Purpose of pruning

  • To enhance the appearance of your plants and to shape the bush/shrub
  • To enhance blossoms. Unpruned bushes bloom on smaller canes, go to seed and eventually go dormant. Pruning will yield fewer blossoms, but larger and healthier ones
  • To stimulate growth in your plants

To remove any undesired stems or canes:Diseased – some examples include black spots or peeling bark.Dead – just because there isn’t any visible new growth doesn’t mean it’s dead. Older canes take longer to leaf out than newer ones. Be cautious, but not overly so. In general, a less than perfect job of pruning is better than not pruning at all. Damaged -broken, bent, twisted stems.

How to prune
Generally, by-pass pruners will get the job done. They are smaller and cut like scissors. For thicker wooded plants you may have to use loppers, and for really old and tough roses a small pruning saw may be necessary.

Cut any dead wood
Cut stems that cross each other or are twiggyRemove canes/twigs in the middle of the bush. This will increase circulation.Cut on a downward slant and away from the bud, slightly above the bud.Cut canes at different heights to give depth and variety to the plant

Whether you planted them in the fall and are beginning to see them sprouting up, or if you just purchased container grown forced bulbs and are waiting for a weekend to put them into the ground, or if you couldn’t resist the really early blooming forced bulbs and are already enjoying the blossoms, bulbs are a springtime treasure!

There are two approaches to caring for bulbs after they’ve bloomed. The first is to leave them in the ground. Leave the foliage on the plant for about 6-8 weeks after they’ve bloomed because the dead lives provide valuable nutrients that will enhance their showing the following year. It’s a lot easier to leave them in the ground, especially if you are dealing with a lot of bulbs or a large area. Also, you won’t have to re-plant them in the fall. Keep in mind, however, that bulbs left in the ground attract squirrels and other rodents.

Some people believe that if you dig up the bulbs and store them in a cool, dry place for the summer and replant them in the fall, they will bloom better the next spring. Taking them out can also be a good idea if you have a smaller area and want to replant with annuals.

Forced Bulbs:
If you forgot to plant your bulbs last fall, purchase forced bulbs (also called bulbettes) that have been raised indoors, and plant them in your garden now. Although buying them in the fall is a lot cheaper, forced bulbs can be transplanted from the container they come in right into the ground at this time of year. They will blossom at the same time as bulbs that were planted in the fall. Plant them close together in clusters about 2 inches from each other and you can expect an intense patch of color as well as a fragrant early spring garden.  There are several varieties available: hyacinth, daffodils and tête-à-têtes (miniature daffodils) and, of course, tulips. After the blooms fade leave the dying foliage on the plant for the bulb to store its nutrients and enhance the showing the next year.

Annuals are flowering bedding plants that last for just one season. The reason why you most annuals can’t be planted in the ground at this time of year is that they need to withstand a certain amount of frost. Hardy annuals such as Pansies and Primroses can withstand a frost, but are not heat tolerant so they will not last through the summer.

Half-hardy annuals like Phlox grows best under cool temperatures and may be able to handle a light frost. The Drummond Phlox is a short, hardy annual with clusters of dark red blossoms that’s native to Texas and blooms in April in the southeast. Tender annuals are the majority of flowering annuals and can’t be planted outdoors until the danger of frost has passed. If they are planted before the soil is warm enough, they will grow too slowly, and are likely to develop root-rot.

Types of fertilizer:
A complete Fertilizer contains these basic three elements that will stimulate and encourage plant growth.

Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth and vegetation. All evergreens, trees and berried shrubs will benefit from some additional nitrogen. Herbs and vegetables need regular doses to produce generous harvests.

Phosphorous promotes flowers and is essential to colorful, large and long-lasting blossoms.

Potassium encourages strong root growth. Trees, shrubs, vines and roses will be healthier if they start life with strong roots.

The timing of fertilizing your plants depends mostly on climate and the type of plant. You want to fertilize in time for the valuable nutrients to be present when the plant needs them the most. If applied too early, the nutrients may leach out before the plant needs them. If applied too late the plant won’t benefit. A general rule for is to start fertilizing perennials as soon as the first signs of growth appear in spring and generally maintain fertilizing through autumn. Always add plant food to well watered plants.

Dry and powdered plant foods break will break down the percentage of the three ingredients in alphabetical order on the packaging. If the plant food contains 25 percent nitrogen, 50 percent phosphorous, and 25 percent potassium the package would read 25-50-25.

Most plants will do well with a generic balanced plant food that reads 30-30-30 on its package. However, for a flowering annual border, fertilize with a plant food with a high middle number. For a vegetable patch or an all green bush, fertilize with a higher first number and for a brand new tree, fertilize with a higher third number.

Fertilizers come in a variety of forms. There is dry, liquid, pellets, and time release fertilizers. Osmacote is a fertilizer that releases nutrients over a set period of time and is often used in vegetable and rose gardens. When the soil moisture and temperature is right, the pellet fertilizer releases the nutrients into the ground.

There are also creative organic fertilizers. Bananas are full of potassium, and the dried banana peels make for an excellent fertilizer. Coffee grounds or wood ashes are fantastic for use in a real sandy soil.