Care needed when starting garden tasks

Spring means mud and damp ground. Save the soil and stay out of the garden until the ground dries.

Spring means mud and damp ground. Save the soil and stay out of the garden until the ground dries.

Walking on or working wet soil causes all the solid materials to fit closer together, forming hard lumps with less room for air and moisture, which are necessary components of healthy soil.

Roots have a hard time penetrating hard soil and are slower growing or stunted in comparison to plants in a loose soil mixture.

Raking a lawn too early in the spring can damage the grass. The teeth of a rake, hand or power, has been known to dig into the ground and tug up part of the top of the plant or crown. It takes the plant time to replace the missing part.

With the exception of early bloomers, do not be in a rush to remove mulch from tender plants. When protective mulch is removed too early, plants can succumb to heavy late frosts.

Take time to prune trees and shrubs, removing all the dead and or damaged branches. Always cut back to another branch, stem or node.

In the case of shrubs, it is good to cut some of the older branches back to the ground level as it encourages the plants to put out new growth in the center of the plant.

The deep snow protected many plants this winter but it also protected rodents. Take a good look at the bottom of the shrubs. If branches have been girdled and the bark removed, the sap will not be able to travel up the branch and the top will die. Cut these branches back to the ground or a branch below the damage.

Removing branches from plants that bloom before June 15 will remove this year’s blooms. If early bloomers are pruned, the branches can be taken into the house and forced into bloom.

The closer the plant is to blooming naturally, the easier it is to force. Crab apple trees, apple trees, forsythia, winter daphne or double flowering plum are the best choices.

Soak the branches for about 12 hours in warm water, re-cut the bottom of the branches and place them in water in a cool location. Keep an eye on the branches and once the buds start to swell, move the container into a warmer, sunnier location. The flower buds should open, providing an early glimpse of spring. Re-cutting the stems every few days will insure that the stems can intake moisture and last longer. For those who want to get their fingers dirty, plant early planters using pots of bulbs and/or pansies, both of which will withstand a few degrees of frost or even a few inches of snow. Given cool weather, spring bulbs will flower for about a month and pansies much longer.

Seed tender plants such as pumpkins, melons, squash and cucumbers in small containers now. In four to six weeks, they can be transplanted outside when all danger of frost is past.

Sweet peas, a favourite, do best if they are planted early. Soak them for 24 hours and plant outside in a trench that is approximately four inches (10 cm) deep. Cover the seeds but do not fill in the entire trench at this time. Once the plants germinate and start to grow, back-fill the trench a little at a time until it is level with the ground. The plant will produce roots along the stem that is covered with soil, increasing the plant’s root mass and making for a stronger plant.

There are numerous chores to be completed in the yard each spring. Do not rush. Even with a late spring, there is plenty of time to get everything accomplished.

Linda Tomlinson is a local horticulturalist who can be reached at or

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