Winter Snow May Not Be Done, But Spring Will Be Here Soon: Time to Prep Your Garden

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By Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and Leonard Perry, University of Vermont Extension Horticulturist

Reposted from The Big Blog of Gardening March 1, 2013

Spring arrives on March 20th this year, and there’s much to do before then to get your garden ready for the growing season.

If you have fruit trees
Spray horticultural oil on apple, plum, and cherry trees to smother any over wintering insects. These are often called “dormant oils” as they’re applied while trees are still dormant, just before buds emerge. Choose a calm day when temperatures are above 40 degrees (F), and when no rain is forecast. Be sure to cover all sides of all branches, including inner and upper. Carefully follow the label instructions for proper usage and appropriate plants.

Build a cold frame
Cold frames offer a great opportunity to get a jump on the growing season and start your plants with real sunlight instead of indoor grow lights. You can make a simple cold frame by placing hay bales along the perimeter of a rectangle, and placing old windows or a glass storm door over the top. You can also purchase cold frames, and some have thermostatically-controlled tops that open automatically when the temperature inside hits a designated point. Since the midday sun can heat this space up quickly, a vent is especially handy if you’re away for long stretches during the day. Check seed catalogs and online garden suppliers for the many types and price ranges of cold frames.

Start seeds for cool weather crops
Cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be started indoors now under grow lights. These cool-loving crops should be grown for six weeks indoors before being transplanted outdoors (generally early to mid-May in the North Country), two weeks before your last “average” frost date. Keep seedlings moist and well fed to get the sturdiest transplants. Lanky, tall seedlings will be a sign they’re getting too much fertilizer, too little light, or both. If you don’t have a cold frame, set mature seedlings outside on above-freezing days so they’ll “harden off” and get stockier.

Plan crop rotation in your vegetable garden
Crop rotation is key in keeping diseases and infestations at bay and not depleting your garden soil. When planning your vegetable garden layout, avoid planting members of the same plant family in the same spot they were in last year, or even the year before. Members of the same family are susceptible to the same diseases and insect infestations. For example, avoid planting members of the tomato family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant) in the same place year after year. You may rotate these crops with other families such as the legumes (beans, peas), cabbage (cabbage, kale, radishes, turnips), or the cucurbits (cucumber, melons, squash).

If you’re growing strawberries and raspberries
Check strawberry plants twice a week for signs of new growth. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the straw mulch and spread it in the rows to help control weeds. A topdressing of an inch or two of compost will give plants a boost.

If you’re growing raspberries, spring is the time to prune shoots before new growth begins, if you didn’t prune after harvesting. If growing the “everbearing” or two-crop types such as ‘Heritage’ or ‘Fall Gold’ for a fall crop, you can prune all shoots to the ground. Summer-bearing types produce fruit on canes from the previous year, so don’t prune these out or you won’t have any fruit. Prune out canes that fruited last year, usually those more woody, light in color, and brittle. For any type, prune out canes that are weak and spindly, leaving healthy canes 6-inches or so apart.

About the authors: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach. Dr Leonard Perry is an Extension Professor at the University Of Vermont and an advisor to the Vermont Association Of Professional Horticulturists

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