You may have to wait a little longer this spring to see your garden bloom. (Photo by Adrian Higgins)

You may have to wait a little longer this spring to see your garden bloom. (Photo by Adrian Higgins)

Tomlinson: Plenty of yard care needed in spring

Spring put in a late appearance this year which has resulted in gardeners trying to get their yards ready in a couple weeks as opposed to a month. The challenge is to know what to do first. That answer is up to the individual.

Once the ground is dry, lawns benefit from a good rake or brush to remove excess thatch. Aerating, taking out plugs, loosens the soil making it easier for grass roots to spread quickly, producing healthier plants and a healthier lawn. While leaving the plugs on top of the soil looks messy they are rich in micro-organisms which speed up the decomposition of grass clippings.

Fertilizer speeds up the greening and growth of the lawn. Organic fertilizer is available in a number of different forms: corn gluten, bone or blood meal and topdressing. Corn gluten meal stops seeds from germinating. Blood Meal is high in nitrogen while Bone Meal is higher in phosphorus and potash. Using a well-composted compost, regardless of the original product, is bulky but will supply nutrients.

In the spring start with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, the first number, as it will encourage top growth. Later in the season, use a fertilizer with more phosphorous and potash, second and third number, as it encourages root growth. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the container. Every fertilizer is trialed enabling companies to tell clients how to get the most out of their product. A well-thought-out fertilizer program encourages the grass to grow and inhibits the weeds.

Clean the flowerbeds by removing the old growth. Do not be surprised to find new growth emerging under dead tops and leaves. Not all plants emerge at the same time. If one is missing give it until the end of June to emerge before digging in the spot and replacing it.

Topdressing flowerbeds with a thin layer of clean compost or manure will ensure that the plants have a supply of nutrients and the soil structure will be improved. Sprinkling bone meal or a low nutrient fertilizer throughout the shrub or perennial bed is an alternative way to provide the plants with nutrients but it does not improve the soil structure. Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer on perennials as excess nitrogen will encourage weak top growth that often topples over.

Keep an eye on the moisture levels of the soil. Cultivated areas and beds along the south side of buildings and fences dry out quickly. When checking moisture levels in the ground, dig down to the same level as the plant roots, about 4 – 6 inches(10-15 cm).

If seeds were seeded into wet or moist soil, keep the soil moist to allow the seeds to continue to germinate and start to grow. Seeds that start to swell and then dry out often die.

Annuals bought as bedding out plants make an instant garden. Annuals that are seeded into the ground germinate and usually start blooming at the end of July the first part of August. They continue until the first hard frost. Some varieties such as bachelor buttons and poppies will self-seed, and provide color for a number of years.

Garden Centers are busy at this time of year. Try to visit at an unpopular time or be prepared to wait. Remember, this is Alberta. If tender plants have been placed outside, be prepared to cover them in the chance that the weather turns colder.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturist that has gardened in Central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at