The 2008 gardening season is now under way in earnest. Those of you who grow your own starts from seed are germinating and sprouting and a few hardy souls are already working the vegetable gardens with some greens already planted—early crops of peas sown and plots planned and waiting.
The earliest of the spring bulbs are already finished with daffodils about to peak and tulips not that far behind. In packing houses throughout the land, nurseries are packaging and sending us the dream plants that we saw in the catalogs and ordered months ago.
While it’s much too early to fertilize your lawn or apply pre-emergent crab grass controls, it’s not too early to start adding composts and fertilizer to your vegetable and flower garden beds. Remember that organic fertilizers only begin to work as the soil (and the soils microorganisms) begin to warm and wake up. This is just another reason why so many of us are switching to organics, because they give a gradual release of nutrients and not the sudden push that you get with some chemical fertilizers.
Work the fertilizer into the top few inches of the soil so it doesn’t wash away with the rain and so the contact with the soil allows for good nutrient release. In the vegetable garden, fertilizer is added to the soil before planting the quick and early crops. Long season crops such as peppers, melons and tomatoes can be fertilized after planting by using a banding method, liquid feeding or by incorporating timed-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time.
It’s late, but not too late to add lime to your gardens as well if you need to make pH adjustments. Remember that you can buy easy and inexpensive soil pH testing kits at most hardware stores and garden centers. Most vegetables will do well with a pH of 6 to 7.
If you are growing fruit trees or grapes, staying on a spraying schedule is critical to a good crop. Notice that I said spraying schedule and didn’t specify chemical or organic. In both cases, staying on the proper spray regime is most important in order to control the diseases and insects that can damage your fruit. Also, consider the use of horticultural oils and soaps as both have their place in the orchard and both can be highly effective in disease and insect control.
Don’t be caught with your hoops and stakes down. All too often our nicest peonies are ruined by heavy rains and winds because we forgot to get the hoops around them or stake them. Once the plants get large and lush it can be nearly impossible to get the hoops in place, but as the new shoots emerge in the next few weeks you can get a great idea of how the shoot system will develop and what size hoop to use. Also remember that as the stems develop and the first tiny buds appear, pinch out the side buds (usually two) to make the center bud larger for cutting or exhibition.
This year I’m eagerly awaiting the first signs of the hardy lilies that we planted last fall. Did we plant them too deep? Did we plant them too late? Are they sitting in pockets of soil that will be too wet and oh yes, who has decided to eat them and feast in the six months since they were given new homes? Those are the early questions. The long term mysteries will be how the color combinations will work out with the rest of the garden and did I get the height and spacing right?
Last year we went a little wild with hosta planting, moving and rearranging some 40 varieties and adding 20 new ones to the nursery that won’t even see the garden for two or three more years. My resolution this year is to control the slugs, which late in the season can make such beautiful foliage a shredded and chewed sea of sorrow. I’m determined not to use the chemical baits, at least not until all else has failed, so I’ll begin with dustings of ashes, diatomaceous earth and several of the organic remedies giving each one it’s chance and keeping the slimies guessing what’s coming next.