MASTER GARDENERS: Preparing the lawn and garden for spring
The calendar indicates that we should be about to experience a little “Spring Fever” but for some reason, it feels more like “blah”! The chilly, rainy days have slowed my outdoor enthusiasm but there are some items that need doing. I have made a short list for your consideration just in case we get a few nice days and you have some leftover energy drinks.
It’s rose pruning time! Repeat blooming roses such as floribunda and hybrid tea roses need a heavy annual pruning that is done in the spring, just as the buds break dormancy. The best way to judge when to prune is to look at the buds; when they begin to swell, go ahead and prune. Climbers that bloom only once a year should be pruned immediately after flowering. Do not prune these types of roses heavily in the early spring since they bloom on wood from the previous year’s growth. Canes that are dead or diseased should be removed as soon as possible. For step by step instructions, go to www.rose.org/pruning-roses. It will guide you through the process and save you time and possible boo-boos.
If your pansies are looking a little sad right now, part of the problem is the cold weather. Even though they are considered winter flowers, they do better when the temperatures rise. If you haven’t fed them for a while, they just might be hungry. Although they are not considered heavy feeders, they do require a light fertilizer about every four to five weeks. Use pansy fertilizers with 15-2-20, 15-3-30 or 13-2-13 ratios, which provide adequate levels of calcium, magnesium and micros, but have low amounts of phosphorus and ammonia nitrogen. Then use a fertilizer like 21-5-20, which is acidic and has a low amount of phosphorus. Monitor the pH to make sure it stays within the acceptable range of 5.4 to 5.8. This type of fertilization program will keep your pansies on track.
Take a look at your azaleas and check for insects. Some of my early bloomers have already started to open and I noticed a few lace bugs on the plants that get a lot of sun. Dormant horticultural oil is good for stopping eggs from hatching but I don’t use it when flower buds are opening. I prefer to use acephate which can be applied as a drench or a spray. Acephate can be found at all garden stores.
Now is a good time to clean up the lawn. Remove any debris that has collected over the winter including leaves, pine cones and straw, acorns, animal droppings and thatch if you have the energy. It is just about time to put down a pre-emergence herbicide for early summer weeds like crabgrass. At this writing, the soil temperatures are still in the mid-forties but will be climbing quickly as our temperatures rise. The herbicide should be in the ground before the soil temperatures reach and hold above 55 degrees Fareneheit. Use a granular product and water it in thoroughly. It will usually take about half an inch of water to form the barrier. A pre-emergent product will not get all of the weeds, but it will help a lot. Bermuda and zoysia lawns can use products containing prodiamine, dithiopyr and pendimethalin. They are effective and long lasting. Weaker warm season grasses such as centipede and St. Augustine can use products with atrazine, simazine or siduron. Don’t use a “weed and feed” product now. It’s way too early for any nitrogen.
This is a good time to inspect birdhouses and feeders to make sure they’re firmly mounted. Clean the feeders, and fill them with fresh seed once they dry. Give birdbaths a good scrubbing and refill with water. Last but not least, create a pile of ready-for-the-taking nesting materials to make life a little easier for our feathered friends.
OK, now take a minute to rest because you still have to clean gutters to prevent water from overflowing and drowning plants below. Cut back ornamental grasses to about six inches tall. Remove dead wood and suckers from trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous. Plant dormant trees and shrubs. Move dormant plants before it gets too warm. Scrub clay pots and clean tools. Remove leaves from the bottom of ponds or other water features. Now rest again!
The Master Gardeners return to the Farmers Market on Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon. The next Lunchbox Seminar will be held on March 18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2724 Whiskey Road. The topic is “Fifty More of Andy’s Favorite Plants” and will be presented by Andy Cabe, garden director of the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia. All Lunchbox seminars begin at 12:30 p.m.Bill Hayes has been in Aiken since 1982 after moving from Chicago, Ill. He was in the chemical process industry for more than 40 years before retiring in 1999.