32 age-old tips for successful spring gardening
"Growing Together" columnist Don Kinzler reminds readers of things like the best height to mow the lawn and what to do if a late spring frost threatens a garden.
FARGO — The language of gardeners is mysterious. When we cut back the “tops“ of perennial flowers in spring, we remove nearly everything above ground level. But the “top” of a building certainly doesn’t refer to everything above ground level.
Gardeners have a language similar to a secret handshake.
Cutting back the tops of perennials is one of many springtime tasks. The following are 32 quick tips to get going this gardening season.
- If you plant asparagus and rhubarb this spring, they should grow two full seasons before harvesting the third year.
- If late spring frost threatens your garden, cloth and newspaper protect plants better than cold plastic.
- When buying spring garden seeds, purchase extra packets of lettuce, spinach, radish, beets and kale to plant a second crop in the late summer.
- Remove blossoms of new strawberry plants during the first half of the season to encourage well-developed plants.
- Buy tomato plants with deep green leaves. Plants with yellowish leaves will recover when fertilized, but they’re delayed.
- Vegetable and flower transplants grow faster if water-soluble starter fertilizer is added when planting.
- Thin carrot, beet, radish and lettuce seedlings to an inch apart to give them room to develop.
- Lawns grow best when mowed 3 inches high.
- Apples of two different named cultivars are needed within bee-flight distance for best fruit set. Flowering crab apples work.
- Newly planted clematis vines require years to develop a well-filled trellis.
- Mulch the clematis root zone with 6 inches of shredded bark to provide the cool, moist soil clematis love.
- Pinch the central growing point of clematis shoots in May and the number of shoots will double.
- Many roses labeled “hardy” aren’t necessarily winter-hardy for the Upper Midwest.
- Canadian rose cultivars sold at local garden centers enjoy a winter hardiness not necessarily found in cultivars developed elsewhere.
- Peonies can remain in place for a century or more as long as they’re blooming fine.
- Potting soil in outdoor containers can be reused many times, and it’s a good idea to replace about a third with fresh soil each spring. If the original potting mix contained slow-release fertilizer, those nutrients will be gone, so fertilize regularly.
- Flowers growing in containers by the front door create a welcoming focal point for the front landscape.
- Fertilize outdoor geraniums once a week. They’re heavy feeders.
- When planting annual flowers, pinch off first blossoms to create stronger plants.
- If you’re not ready to plant items you’ve bought from the garden center, don’t leave them in the garage for more than one day. They’re accustomed to growing in a sunny greenhouse and will quickly go downhill in a dim garage. Instead, locate plants in a sheltered, sunny spot outdoors and move into the garage on chilly nights.
- Perennial flowers and flowering shrubs benefit from fertilizer in May and June.
- Remove tree wraps from young and thin-barked trees each spring and replace in fall.
- Prune hedges so the base is wider than the top to maintain lower foliage.
- Check the mature width of new shrubs and allow their full mature footprint to avoid overcrowding.
- Young trees grow more quickly if grass is kept away with a 5-foot diameter circle of shredded bark mulch.
- Fertilize tulips in spring, and leave foliage intact until it dies back naturally for the best bloom next year.
- More young trees are killed by cumulative damage from mowers, trimmers and weed overspray than all diseases combined.
- Spring-planted garlic doesn’t grow very large. Fall planting is the norm.
- Mulching around tomatoes helps prevent tomato blossom end rot, but delay applying mulch until the soil is well-warmed in late June.
- For main crop tomatoes, choose varieties listed as 65 to 75 days on labels. Tomato varieties requiring 90 to 100 days are late for our area.
- Peony blossoms don’t require ants to open.
- Lilacs can be pruned right after bloom, so you don’t lose this year’s flowers.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.