Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
Getting ready for spring
It's not to early to start making plans for this year's garden.
Spring is truly a miracle of rebirth, and it’s worth putting up with three or four months of somber gray skies with snow and ice to appreciate the joy of spring.
For now, we still have a little way to go, just enough time to get ready for the big spring push.
If you haven’t already done so, start a journal where you can keep plant tags and photos, jot down your goals for the season, and keep a list of plants you can’t do without in your garden beds. Take heart from last year’s garden photos. It is truly amazing to see what you accomplished last year!
As you page through your favorite catalog or garden magazine, identify some new crops or varieties that you’d like to try this year, whether ornamentals or vegetables. Don’t be afraid
to experiment. For the vegetable garden, make sure you’ve ordered enough medium-weight row cover to protect the early veggies like onions, broccoli and cauliflower in your raised beds. In hot weather, you may want to switch to Agribon, which is much lighter, to keep the insect pests away. It works well either as a floating row cover or over PVC arches. Also, order
sweet potato starts if you intend to plant them. They won’t be delivered until mid-May, but get your order in early.
Check through your supply of last-year’s seeds. You don’t have to order everything fresh every year. Many of the seeds will still germinate if they are only a year or two old. You can do a germination test with damp paper towels if you’re not sure. Then organize your seed-starting area. Test the lights and chains, and check out supplies such as clean trays and fresh seed-starting mix.
You can sanitize older plastic items with a water and 10% Clorox mix. Also, you don’t need the expensive Gro-Lights. Using two cool tubes or one cool with one warm fluorescent bulb in each fixture works great for starting seeds.
Consider completing a Penn State soil test, available at the Berks County Ag Center. Once you have the test results, add recommended amendments soon
so they have time to break down. Resist the urge to overdo the fertilizer on your plantings. Much of it runs off in spring rains and pollutes the waterways. Ever wonder why the water in our lakes turns green with algae? It’s fertilizer runoff from lawns.
Now is the time to plan out your vegetable garden plots. Think about adding vertical space, whether you are working with a 10-by10 plot or something larger. For instance, pole beans or winter squash do very well hanging from the strong grid of an arched cattle panel or on a 5-foot fence. Indeterminate tomatoes will climb just about anything vertical and benefit from the increased air circulation to prevent disease. You can succession plant, following one main crop with a short-season one for additional production.
Plan to include onions, marigolds, nasturtiums or herbs among your crops to confuse destructive insects such as asparagus and cucumber beetles, potato bugs and cabbage butterfly caterpillars. At the Ag Center vegetable garden, we’ve been impressed with the power of interplanting herbs among our crops.
If you’ve had groundhog, rabbit or deer problems in the past, realize that sprays or dried blood will not work long term. Now is the time to invest in some plasticcovered, welded-wire fencing attached to steel stakes with zip-ties to protect your garden.
Don’t rake all the leaves and mulch out of your flower beds too early! Many shrubs and perennials still need that upper layer, because spring freeze-thaw cycles will heave the roots out of the ground if they don’t have protection. As the leaves crumble, they provide food for decomposers and biomass to fertilize and condition the soil. Soon enough it will be warm and time to refresh the mulch.
Take a good look at your shrubs and trees. Prune off the branches broken by wind, snow and ice this winter. Remove crossing branches, which damage other branches as they rub. Take notice of the overall shape of the tree and don’t overdo your pruning with “heading cuts.” It’s better to take a branch off all the way down instead.
As you are outside, try to find Spotted Lanternfly egg cases. They look like 2-3 inch oval blobs of gray or white putty. They favor the undersides of branches, fence rails, firewood, equipment or anywhere else. Scrape them off into a plastic bag and trash them.
Visit the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens and the Spring Plant Sale at the Ag Center on County Welfare Road near Blue Marsh. The Master Gardeners can answer your gardening questions, and they sell an amazing variety of plants. The sale is planned for Mother’s Day weekend, May 6-7.