You know spring is here when bleeding hearts and tulips are in full bloom; when baseball season begins and song birds start their families. Can you imagine our ground frozen 30 inches down like it is in Chicago's Wrigley Field? My heart goes out to those gardeners still dreaming over seed catalogs
Just yesterday, I was in a rose garden in Scotts Valley. The Double Delight roses had already started to open and the fragrance was lovely. All of the roses were lush, healthy and full of buds, just like all of your plants should be. If you haven't gotten to the following garden tasks, now's the time, so your garden can be beautiful and use less water this year.
- Check drip systems for leaks or emitters clogged by dirt or earwigs. Flush sediment from filters and check screens for algae. You may need to add emitters if plants have grown significantly and move them farther away from the crown of the plant and out to the feeder roots under the canopy.
- Spread fresh compost or bark mulch around all your plants. Good soil is the secret to successful gardening. The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil and it will feed the plant. Remember that all gardening used to be organic. Layer 2 to 3 inches of compost or mulch on top of the soil and let it slowly decompose and filter down into the earth. Bark nuggets and shredded bark do not increase your soil's fertility like compost of bark chips do.
- Transplant if you need to move any plants in the garden that have outgrown their space or are not with other plants of the same water usage. Now is a good time because plants are full of growth hormones and recover quickly from transplant shock. As you plant new additions to the garden, add organic matter to the soil. If your garden's soil is sandy, organic matter enriches it and allows it to hold water more efficiently. If your soil tends toward clay, organic matter will loosen it up and improve drainage. In well-amended soil, plants grow deep roots, are hardier for cold, more resistant to disease and more drought-tolerant. Organic matter, such as compost, planting mix and well-rotted manure, boosts nutrition and improves soil structure.
- Fertilize if you haven't already done so. Citrus, shrubs and fruit trees just emerging from dormancy are begging for their first meal of the season. Lawns begin their spring growth now also and benefit from a boost of organic nitrogen. You can also spread a thin layer of composted manure over your lawn. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn will benefit it by shading the roots as it gets warmer and as they break down they help feed it, too. Perennials benefit from both a fresh layer of compost or manure and a light application of balanced fertilizer. They respond to the phosphorus from bone meal especially in the spring for root growth, stem sturdiness and flower development. Wait until azaleas, camellias and rhododendron have finished blooming before feeding them.
- Pull weeds regularly before they set seed. They pull out easily from moist soil. Weeds rob your plants of precious water. Think of weeding as free gym time.
- Check for aphids. They are out in full force sucking plant juices from the tender new leaves of everything from roses to hellebore to Japanese maples. A strong spray from the hose may be enough to dislodge them. If they still persist, you can spray organic insecticidal soap, neem oil or horticultural oil to kill them. As with all pesticide sprays, do this early in the morning or later when they are not in the sun. Be sure to test first to make sure the spray doesn't burn the new growth and always mix according to the directions.
Ants can also bring aphids up into trees and shrubs such as camellias, citrus and roses. Ants feed off honeydew secreted by aphids, scale and other plant-juice sucking insects. Ants also protect these pests from natural predators. To keep them off, wrap trunks with a 1 to 2 inch wide strip of masking tape and coat with a sticky barrier like Tanglefoot. Keep the barriers free of dirt and check them periodically for breaks. Reapply when necessary
- The most important to-do for early spring is to take time out and enjoy your garden and our beautiful surroundings. Those last few weeds will be there tomorrow but you'll never get another today.
- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.