Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Early spring chores to tackle amid covid-19 pandemic

Question: Like everyone else, I’m stuck at home and itching to do some work in the garden. What can I do this time of year that isn’t jumping the gun? I can’t spread mulch because there’s none available yet and I think the ground is still too wet. Is it too early to prune?

Answer: I’ve been hearing from many gardeners this week with the same lament. Gardening is not canceled. It’s a great way to enjoy the great outdoors, get some physical exercise, and it’s something the whole family can do together. Here are some early spring projects you can tackle while still keeping your social distance with the rest of the world.

1. Start growing your own food. Right now is the perfect time to sow seeds of crops that can tolerate spring frosts. Plant seeds of peas, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, chard and radishes outdoors. With the exception of peas, all of these plants do well when planted in containers or in the ground. Unless you’re growing a dwarf variety of peas that does well in a pot, plant pea seeds in a sunny spot in the ground. This whole situation is a great reason to learn how to grow vegetables. Set up a simple raised bed from a kit you purchase online or dig up a small patch of sod, add some bagged compost (also available online), and start a veggie patch. Don’t start too big: 4-by-4 feet or 6-by-6 feet is the perfect size for a first-time garden.

2. Start cleaning out your shrub and flower beds. Ideally, you should wait to cut back perennials and rake leaves out of garden beds until the daytime temperatures are regularly in the 50s since many pollinators and other beneficial insects are still hibernating for the winter. However, we’ve had some pretty warm days already this spring, so I think it’s safe to get started on your clean up.

3. Prepare your containers for planting. Bring all your pots out of storage and scrub them with a 10% bleach solution, inside and out, to get rid of any lingering fungal diseases from last season. Put them out where you plan to display them and they’ll be ready for planting in a few weeks.

4. Prune your woody perennials. Plants like butterfly bushes, caryopteris and Russian sage are known as woody perennials. They form woody growth in a single season but most winters their top growth is killed back. As a result, they must be pruned back hard in the spring. Prune these plants back to just eight inches from the ground. In a few weeks, they’ll start generating new growth and will flower like crazy later this summer.

5. Prune your roses. If you’re a rose grower, head out to the garden and trim off any winter-killed stems, crossing branches and overgrown canes. Most varieties of roses benefit from a good spring pruning to open up space for new spring growth and improve air circulation (which also increases disease resistance).

6. Edge garden beds. With all this time on our hands, make the most of it by putting a crisp, clean edge on all your garden beds. You can do this task with a manual, electric or gas-powered edging tool if you have one, but I much prefer to do it with a flat-bladed, short-handled spade. I just step the spade into the soil, trimming off a little grass and digging down into the soil to get a crisp edge. All the trimmings go to the compost pile.

7. Pressure wash patios, decks and porches. Early spring is also a great time to get out the pressure washer and brighten things up.

8. Start seeds indoors. It’s still a few weeks too early to start your tomato seeds indoors, but right now is perfect for starting cold-season crops like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, and kale. Grow them indoors for 3 to 4 weeks then transplant them out into the garden for a homegrown harvest by the time early summer arrives. For tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other warm-season crops, start seeds the first week of April and move them outdoors only after the danger of frost has passed (usually by mid- to late May).

What NOT to do:

1. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs. Hold off on pruning azaleas, rhododendrons, viburnums, forsythia or other spring-blooming bushes. If you do, you’ll be cutting off this year’s flowers. Wait until after they bloom to do your pruning.

2. Don’t plant seeds of warm-season veggies and flowers outdoors. It’s much too early to start planting vegetables or flowers that won’t tolerate frosts. We will likely have many more early morning frosts over the coming weeks, so hold off on sowing seeds of edible warm-weather-loving plants like beans, squash, zucchini and pumpkins, or flowers like cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds and zinnias.


This article is written by Jessica Walliser from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.