At this time of year, we all look forward to the bulbs that begin to emerge from the ground and the flowers that pop out of the branches of the flowering trees and shrubs. To celebrate the arrival of Spring, I wanted to share with you the "garden essentials & must haves" that I simply cannot live without!
First of all, I never go outside without a hat for protection from both the sun and the rain. The Sunday Afternoon Original Adventure Hat is my favorite because the bill gives excellent coverage from the sun both of my face and also the back of my neck. There is ventilation in the crown, so I never get overheated. The back tail has a Velcro tab to bring it up and attach it to give better air movement on my neck. It has an adjustable strap that keeps the hat on my head when it is windy. It is water proof, so I stay dry in all but the heaviest down pours. There are so many colors that it is difficult to not buy a new one every Spring.
The next "must have" is a pair of Mud Gloves. These water proof cotton-based glove have coated fingers all the way up over the top knuckles. The cotton liner helps your hands "breathe" so they never get sweaty. The best thing is that they are machine wash-able and dry-able. I buy two pairs, so that I always have a clean pair to wear. These come in a variety of colors. This year, my favorite is the bright chartreuse. The bright colors make them easy to find when I take them off and lay them down on the lawn next to the vegetable garden. They also match my memory foam kneeler!
One of my favorite times in the Spring is when the Chalet crew comes to do the Spring clean-up. (I splurge and hire the experts to do the job in 2 1/2 hours, instead of me taking a week and a half to do it!) Afterward, the planting beds are so clean that I make sure that I treat every surface with Preen. There are 2 types. I like the original synthetic type using Trifluralin as the active ingredient. It keeps any seeds (weeds and other unwanted plants) from growing. The seeds germinate, but the active ingredient kills the feeder root. No root, no shoot! There is also an organic based version using corn gluten meal as the active ingredient. It covers 250 square feet and lasts for 30 days, while the synthetic version covers 900 square feet and lasts for 8 to 12 weeks.
After taking care of the planting beds, my focus turns to my lawn. I have a shady front yard and a very sunny back yard. Weeds are always trying to take over in the sunny areas. Bonide has an excellent product that prevents new seeds from starting and kills existing weeds that went dormant over the Winter, but are just waiting to wake up and grow. It is called Weed Beater Complete. Even the company representatives admit that it is a great product with terrible instructions on the bag! Follow these directions when using this product: The existing weeds need to be wet when the granules are applied. You should leave the granules on the leaves for 24 hours. (Plan to apply when the weather people are not predicting rain for 24 hours, so that the chemicals can be absorbed into the leaves of the existing weeds.) Then after 24 hours, water the granules into the ground. That step is required to put the pre-emergent chemicals into the ground to prevent any new weeds from germinating and growing. This product protects the lawn for 4 months. But, you cannot use it if you want to plant new grass seed to fill in bare spots or thin areas. Don't worry though, there is a great product to use instead!
If you have thin areas, use Scotts STEP 1 for Seeding Starter Lawn Food with Weed Preventer (pictured above). It is another granular product that has a fertilizer and a pre-emergent weed control. It keeps most common weeds from germinating, and its active ingredient, Mesotrione, kills creeping bent grass and nimblewill by burning the chlorophyll out. It makes the grassy weeds turn white. It is so rewarding to look around the lawn, seeing all the white blades, knowing that those weeds are dying! The best thing is that the desirable grass seed grows and gets established, thickening the lawn.
Two weeks after using the Scotts Step 1 For Seeding, it is safe to apply grass seed to thin areas, bare spots or as an "over-seeding" of the entire lawn. Chalet has a private label brand of grass seed for four different conditions of light. Sun and Shade is the most popular variety. There is also one for full sun, called Sunny, for areas requiring six hours of sun per day. Then the Shade variety is for areas getting four or less hours of sun. Last but not least, there is the Extreme Dense Shade blend. It contains Poa supina, a type of blue grass that only grows in the shade. It needs consistent water, but it is very traffic resistant. It also can complete with tree roots that are very surface oriented.
For ease of application, use the Scotts Wizz Year Round Spreader. It is 4AA battery operated with a 5-foot-wide broadcast pattern and an Edge guard feature.
If you do not have a lot of weeds, then all you need to do is apply Espoma Lawn Food. It is an organically based, long lasting fertilizer. It is "juiced", meaning it has an enhanced nitrogen level that will give the lawn a quick green-up with a slow-release long term nutrient load, keeping the lawn greener longer. We recommend four applications per season for the best lawn in the neighborhood. The timing we recommend is based on the four holidays; Easter or April 15, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Halloween. Those are the best times for the most use of the nitrogen and when the cool season grasses are using the most nutrients because they are growing the most actively at those times of the year.
To get rid of the few weeds that may pop up in this early season, use the Bonide Weed Beater Ultra. It works to spot kill the weeds in the early season, because it works when temperatures are down in the 40's. Other weed killers will not work unless the temperatures are above 55 degrees F. Use Weed Beater Ultra to get an early start at "beating the weeds". I recommend you fertilize first to increase the metabolism of the grass and the weeds. Weed killers are plant hormones. When their metabolism is revved up, they pull the hormone in faster and it kills them more quickly.
After I take care of the lawn, it is time to move to the flowering crabapples, the flowering serviceberries and the flowering hawthorns. They are all just starting to flower. The flowers come first, then the leaves emerge. If there were spots on the leaves last year, NOW is the time to protect the leaves. Most of the fungal leaf spot diseases, inoculate the leaves early when the leaves are young and do not have the waxy cuticle formed. The fungal spore germinates and inoculates the baby leaf. The spots do not form until 6 to 8 weeks later. When the spots show up, it is too late to do anything about it. That is why protection early in the growing season is so important.
The best product to use is Spectracide Immunox. Use a hose end sprayer by Ortho called the Dial N Spray. It is designed to set the dial at the recommended ounces per gallon. It is connected to a garden hose. It has the capacity to spray up to 20 - 25 ft depending on the water pressure. The recommended amount for most diseases and most plants is 1 oz of Immunox per gallon of water. It is a trans-laminar systemic, so you only need to get one side of the leaf wet. The chemical stays in the leaf that was sprayed for 14 days. For best control, spray every two weeks for 3 - 5 applications. Peonies and Roses benefit from Immunox protection at the same time it is applied to crabapples.
After finishing fungal protection, it is time to apply fertilizer to the flowering bulbs, the roses and the early vegetable garden. Dr. Earth has wonderful fish-waste based combinations that last 60 days with each application. That means, applying April 15, June 15 and August 15. That is all that is needed for great crops, beautiful flowers and buds for flowers for the following year.
Be sure to water the fertilizer into the ground and into the soil solution. The best watering tools are made by Dramm. There is a long-handled type and a short-handled type. The best feature of this brand is the thumb control of the water pressure. Spraying one-handed is so convenient. This makes a wonderful gift, because it is something most people have never seen before.
If your roses had blackspot and / or Japanese beetles or rose slug damage, there is a wonderful product that is a drench that is poured into the ground right where the stem enters the soil. It has a 9-14-9 fertilizer with a systemic insecticide and a systemic fungicide. It is called BioAdvanced All-In-One for Roses. It requires 2oz in 1 quart of water poured at the root collar every 6 weeks. That is April 15, June 1 and July 15. It can also be used for small to large shrubs at the rate of one ounce per foot of plants size. Also used every 6 weeks.
During and after applying fertilizer to get the plants growing, my major focus is PROTECTION from the wild critters that are hungry, hungry for “fresh greens”. If they have not already started eating the bark of the roses, crabapples and serviceberries. The best repellents are liquid based to spray on the parts of the plant that are being damaged. Save the granular products for later. My first choice is Plantskydd, a sterilized blood based product that stays on the plants for 60 days after it dries. It has a dark brown color when first applied but fades to clear in 48 hours. We always advise to rotate repellent products to keep the animal pests “on guard”, so the next best is Bonide Repels-All. It comes in a ready to spray bottle and a hose-end sprayer that gives you “fireman spraying” coverage. The best for rabbit protection (besides fencing the plants in) is Liquid Fence Dual Action Rabbit Repellent. Baby rabbits are protected by Mother Nature because they do not have a sense of smell or taste until they become adolescents. This dual action repellent has cinnamon and capsaicin in it. Both irritate and “burn” (like hot pepper burn) their mouths, so they stop eating and move to someone else’s garden! Apply once a week for the first two weeks, then once every two weeks for a month then once a month after that. There is a money-back warranty. It really works!
After Spring flowering is finished, it is time to plan for pruning. It is best to prune 6 to 8 weeks after a Spring Flowering shrub has finished. If you wait too long, the new growth will have already started to form the buds for the flowering next year. If you do not own a good pair of pruning shears, take a look at the Dramm brand. There are 2 sizes of by-pass pruners and a needle nose type. They are good quality pruners at very reasonable prices.