Gardening column

With the promise of spring just around the corner, and many are making gardening decisions.

Which seeds will to be used, and how about the timing? Does the soil need amendments — what, when and where? If seeding outside, wondering when the soil will be the correct consistency.

The first day of spring is the vernal equinox which can be March 19, 20 or 21. It seems Mother Nature throws a surprise at us often enough this time of year to keep us alert. Tender plants will need to be protected from the cold most years, well into spring.

April 2007 presented us with a freeze that killed, in my estimation, every single new leaf on every tree. Later, lots of trees and other plants were lost due to that freeze and later a drought. Many shrubs sported chunks of ice on their limbs and trunks where they had expanded and cracked. Of course, smaller perennials were “back to the ground.”

Speaking of perennials, March is a good time to dig and divide the crowded ones (like mums, asters and daisies) and to add a few new ones. It’s a time to rejuvenate both the plants and soil. Adding compost to the soil is always a good thing.

If you have resident voles, adding anything sharp such as sand or gravel to the soil will hinder their digging around plants. Garden snakes deter them too, but some of us get nervous about seeing the snakes. My gardening neighbor makes little vole traps that reduce our vole population. Voles love to eat hostas, right through the crown, especially the expensive hostas.

Hellebores deter voles, so maybe planting more hellebores will help. Hostas grow well in pots. The pots can stay above ground or be placed in the soil with the rims (and maybe more) above ground. Of course, holes in the pots are needed for drainage.

Black sooty mold can sometimes be found on evergreens like holly, yew and magnolias. Dormant oil used in late winter/early spring before any new growth begins can help kill the scale insects on the plants. The mold looks bad, but it’s the scale that can harm the plant. Follow directions on the container and try to cover the bottom of foliage with the oil as well as the top. Some people rub lye soap on magnolia trunks to repel pests.

Any remaining necessary dormant pruning needs to be done as soon as possible before new growth appears. Many shrubs, that would otherwise be overgrown can stay inbounds with proper pruning. Cut knock-out roses two to three feet shorter than the desired height.

To help prevent the spreading of diseases, proper sterilization of tools while pruning from one plant to another is important. Rose Rosette is only one of the diseases that can be spread by tools. And dirty lawn mowers can spread plant disease also.

Cut back ornamental grasses before new growth begins.

Prune and shape spring-blooming shrubs soon after they bloom. The prunings can be useful in starting new plants.

Hardy ferns and other woodland plants will look better if the worn-out foliage is cut back. Don’t remove daffodil, tulip and other spring-flowering bulb foliage until it turns brown. That foliage is making food for next year’s blooms. All of these plants profit from a being fed good compost.

Now is a good time to plant fig trees, blueberries, strawberries and grapes.

Happy Gardening.

Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice.  Readers may submit gardening questions by email: gpdc471@gmail.com, on the website:  www.gardening.partners, or by mail:  PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056

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