By Karna Berg, Master Gardener
The main colors in the landscape today are white and brown but April will start to bring back the green. And will we be ready for it? Here are some things we can do to make it as green as can be.
Early spring is a good time to prune your trees, especially oak trees. At this time of the year, pruning will not make you oak trees susceptible to oak wilt. Consider inviting an arborist to your garden to help you identify other trees that could use pruning or shaping. Then your trees are ready for new growth in spring. (For more on pruning trees and shrubs, take a look at our March Garden Buzz in which several articles were devoted to pruning trees and shrubs. And the University of Minnesota Extension is always a great source.
You may want to check your storage cabinets for pesticides, fertilizers, and the like. That way you can avoid buying unnecessary products on your first trip to the nursery. Like me, you may have multiples of these items just because you want to make sure to have them on hand when you need them. Help our environment by using up what you have first.
And while you are in your garage, take the time to clean any garden tools that you didn’t get to last fall. Disease from an infected plant may be spread to a healthy one by using dirty garden tools. Proper cleaning of your tools can reduce the spread of disease. You should also clean your tools when you have used them on plants that may be infected with a disease. Cleaners such as Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner, a bleach solution and alcohol may be effective cleaners. However, refer to this article from the University of Minnesota Extension regarding the proper methods to use with these cleaners.
Perhaps you are a seed saver or indoor plant starter. This is another way to save on money. Our February Garden Buzz has some great articles, tips and links to help you start your own plants from seed. While there are start-up costs, once you have the equipment, you can use it forever and have the joy of seeing plants start up in April and May.
If you haven’t already done so, start planning a new garden bed or think about the plants you want to add to your existing beds. Look at all the seed and plant catalogs you are getting in the mail. And order now while there is inventory. (Look back at our January – March Garden Buzz editions for advice about how to go about planning your flower or vegetable garden.) With some advance planning, you can enjoy spring perennials as early as April and early May. For inspiration, review this video of Master Gardener Deborah Snow’s early spring garden.
Once the ground thaws (late April – early May), lots of work can be done. You can start by removing the leaves left on your garden to give your plants a blanket during the winter. Use a child’s or other rake to gently pull them off the ground. They will often come up in big clumps revealing pale green plants struggling to start growing. Then move the leaves to your compost pile.
In the past, gardeners would leave at least some of the leaves on the gardens for the nutrients but now, with jumping worms invading our state, it is probably better to remove them. Jumping worms live at the very surface of the soil or in the organic matter on top of it. To them, that bed of leaves is a delicious buffet. In fact, they will also feast on wood mulch. They do not like pine needles or native grasses such as big bluestem. They also don’t like heat over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A compost pile usually gets above this temperature and will kill them. If you see them in your soil, remove them and alert the University of Minnesota Extension. For more information on jumping worms, read the Gardener Beware article in this month’s edition. For information on jumping worms, read this article from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Early spring is also a great time to get your soil tested. A soil test will provide information about soil fertility, pH (alkaline or acidic) and recommendations for soil amendments – all of which may help your plants grow well. A soil test will also help you to avoid applying too much or the wrong kind of fertilizer. Spring is an excellent time to get a soil test. Home test kits are available but are not as accurate or helpful for your garden as the tests available through the University of Minnesota. When collecting soil for testing, make sure that you take a sample from the area or areas of your garden where you will be planting. For more about how to obtain a soil sample, go to: http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/
Then on to every gardener’s favorite task – weeding. With the ground soft, it is easier to pull weeds before they set deep roots and before they go to seed. This will give you a head start in keeping weeds to a minimum all summer.
Early spring is a good time to divide plants, for example, hostas, before they get too big for some of us to handle. Just decide on and prepare a new spot for your plant before you start digging and get your plant into its new home quickly.
Now is the time to prune some of your summer blooming perennials and shrubs such as panicle hydrangea, butterfly bush, and certain clematis that bloom on new wood. Other such plants that bloom on old wood can be trimmed in the fall. Review the article in our March Garden Buzz on pruning hydrangeas and clematis.
Last, sprinkle granular fertilizer around your perennial beds, shrubs and trees, following the directions on the product you choose. Your plants will thank you for this with more growth and flowers.
While it is easy to do, don’t get too anxious to get those new plants in the soil or remove those leaves. A late hard freeze can put waste to all your hard work so watch the weather forecasts. Instead, get a pansy bowl and in this way add instant color to your yard.
Most of all, enjoy your daily stroll around your yard to check out what plants are popping their heads out of the ground and to say goodbye to another Minnesota winter.
 This article refers to several articles in past Garden Buzz editions. If you don’t have your earlier Garden Buzz Newsletters, all of the articles referred to can be found on our Dakota County Master Gardener website.