By Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener
There are a couple of benefits to planting larger-growing conifers before April. The first is that, knowing garden centers stock up early for the spring planting season, informed gardeners buy early. This guarantees cream-of-the-crop selections before the general public makes its purchases. Early shipments include pine, spruce, cedar, cypress, and other varieties in this family of large evergreens.
Second, conifers are slow growing. Buy them before they break dormancy in April and your money is better spent than when new candles add another foot of height and girth. Many nurseries will upsize, i.e. pot shift, to larger containers, and charge more for the larger tree. Point being, that for the best selection and best value, purchase and plant new evergreens in March.
My last bit of evergreen advice is especially important for gardeners facing major landscape projects. Choose smaller specimens of fast growing trees and shrubs as these will catch up quickly with the rest of the landscape. Poplars, willows, elms, and aspens are trees in this category; shrubs that grow quickly are lilacs, red tipped photinias, and cotoneasters.
Buying small sizes of faster growers frees landscape dollars so you can afford the largest size possible of the slower growing spruce, pine, cedars, maple, ash, etc. This approach maximizes your investment to present a mature-looking landscape within year one of plantings.
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Want to know when to start spring planting? I suggest you do as I do: look to nature for all the right signals. Willow trees turn a definite shade of green, birds become very boisterously active, the first hummingbirds arrive from the south, daffodils show the first sign of green growth, the spring flowering quince, forsythia and heath announce the leading edge of spring’s arrival. All these signals point to spring in every gardener’s neighborhood . . .YAY!
Spring weather signals the start of certain gardening tasks that are essential to maintaining a vital, healthy garden. These should be completed within the next few weeks. I’m a list guy, and the following is my springtime procedural list in order of personal importance. Hope it’s helpful to you in your gardens as well.
The 9 Essential Tasks
#1 – Finish pruning everything in the yard including roses, fruit trees, and summer-blooming shrubs. This is especially important for roses; mine are covered in new leaves all ready. Then rake up old leaves, cut back dead growth on perennials, and remove leftover annuals and vegetables from gardens and containers.
#2 — Apply “Weed & Grass Preventer” before the next weather system hits. This granular seed killer will keep the worst of early spring foxtails, dandelions, and horehounds from emerging in rock lawns and flowerbeds. Preventer must be applied before the weeds emerge or it will be too late to be effective.
#3 – Watch for aphids on pines, willows, aspens, and apple trees. These pests are easily eliminated with an application of liquid ‘All Season Spray Oil’. All fruit trees should be sprayed before their spring bloom. Spray roses at the same time.
#4 – Feed everything in the landscape by the end of March. I created an all-natural food especially for the mountain gardens of Arizona, and it really works. Use my ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4 on lawns, flowerbeds, shrubs, trees, and all garden soils you will use for planting. I also administer an application of ‘Soil Sulfur’ at the same time. If you’re uncertain about what, when, and how to feed your garden, stop by the garden center and ask for the handout of my 4-step program for feeding a landscape.
Don’t forget your natives! Our weather is too nice for this time of year, so I am worried about bark beetles damaging ponderosa and pinion pines. When well-fed and healthy, evergreens can defend themselves effectively against these vicious forest invaders.
#5 – Top dress flowerbeds, shrubs, and trees with a 2” layer of shredded cedar bark or, if you prefer, composted mulch. This new layer of protection will insulate the roots from cold nights and drying spring winds that lie ahead. This simple act also keeps weeds at bay and encourages better root development.
#6 – Use my ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4 to nudge old lawns awake and to jump-start new seedlings. March is the best month to start a new lawn and to overseed an old one. For more detailed advice, ask for my handout “10 ½ Steps to New Lawns and Overseeding”.
#7 – Pinion pine scale should be making its unwelcome appearance in just a matter of days. Watch for signs and treat with specially formulated ‘Plant Protector’. You do not need to be an arborist to apply this easy-to-use bug solution, and one application protects trees for the entire year. Besides those trees attacked by scale, I definitely recommend feeding stressed trees as well. See the theme here?
# 8 – Before planting your garden, cover the area with a 2” layer of composted mulch and manure topped with gypsum and ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4. Then turn this organic-rich material into the garden’s soil to one shovel’s depth. Now you are ready to plant spring flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
#9 — Go ahead and plant early spring flowers and vegetables as soon as soil has been prepped. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, and onions already have arrived at the garden center. Pansies, violas, dusty millers, English primroses, poppies, and early spring blooming perennials also are ready for planting. All of these plants love the warm days and the chilly nights of early spring.
That’s the list. Indulge your garden with these minimal maintenance tasks and you’ll find your spring flowers brighter, the evergreens greener, and your garden’s spring growth more exciting than ever.
Until next week, I’ll see you at Watters Garden Center.