SPRING IS HERE NOW

In case you hadn’t noticed, spring started last month. Plant growth is about a month ahead of normal. Although we had a few frosty mornings in February, it was still about 6 degrees above normal.

WHAT CAN I PLANT NOW?

Spring gives me the irresistible urge to plant. Even though the season is advanced, we can still have frost for a month or longer. It is too early to plant frost tender flowers and vegetables. However, there are many plants (including flowers and vegetables) which can take temperatures well below freezing without damage. All permanent plants such as lawns, trees, shrubs, berries, vines, ground covers and perennial flowers can be planted now.

Hardy vegetables which can be planted now include root crops such as carrot, onion, beet, turnip, radish, but not potatoes. Leaf crops including spinach, lettuce and cabbage, and flower bud vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are also frost hardy down to the mid twenties. The only hardy fruiting vegetables are peas and fava beans. Perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb are best planted early.

Hardy annual flowers include pansy, primrose, calendula, petunia, snapdragon, alyssum, carnation, dianthus, cosmos, most daisies, gaillardia, nasturtium, poppy, blue salvia, sweet pea, and verbena.

This is the best time to plant roses and fruit trees. Virtually all fruits including strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, kiwi, currant, gooseberry and grape can be planted now.

SPRING LAWN CARE

I have already mowed my lawn twice in February. Usually it does not start to grow visibly until mid March. It is time to make your first lawn fertilizer application unless you applied fertilizer last September or October. If so you can probably wait until late May for your first application. The carryover effect of fall fertilizer application is enough to give grass a good spring start.

If you did not make a fall application of lawn fertilizer, you have several choices. If you have a lot of dandelions and other broad leaf weeds, a weed and feed combination fertilizer and weed killer is a good choice. You accomplish two jobs with one application. The difference in price between regular lawn fertilizer and weed and feed is usually only a couple of dollars. Grass should be wet when weed and feed is applied so that it sticks to the weed leaves. The weed killer is absorbed through the leaves and carried down to kill weed roots.

Another choice if you have few or no weeds is to apply Natural Guard Soil Activator. The active ingredient in this product is humic acid, or sometimes referred to as humates. It is a naturally occurring mineral which stimulates earthworm and micro-organism activity. They quickly decompose the thatch (dead, brown leaves and stems). This process releases nitrogen, which stimulates grass growth.

Another choice if you have few or no weeds is to apply a regular lawn fertilizer. There are many brands and formulations of lawn fertilizer. I prefer a balance of 3-1-2 nitrogen-phosphate-potassium. An organic fertilizer might have a 6-2-4 analysis. Most chemical lawn fertilizers have at least 15 per cent nitrogen, giving a 15-5-10 analysis. Many lawn fertilizers contain a higher percentage of nitrogen and smaller percentages of phosphate and potassium. They are also satisfactory. These numbers are prominently displayed on the bag. If you look at the guaranteed analysis label, you can see exact percentages and sources of each nutrient element.

Organic fertilizers are naturally long lasting. Chemical fertilizers often have a combination of quick acting and slow release nitrogen. Methylene urea is a common slow release nitrogen compound. Sulfur coated and poly coated nitrogen is also slow release. Sometimes granules are coated with both sulfur and poly. If slow release nitrogen is included in the fertilizer it will usually indicate what percentage on the analysis label.

Iron is another important nutrient element for lawns. Very small percentages of iron (often only one or two per cent) will cause grass to turn dark green. Iron also controls moss. Iron content of at least 5 percent is necessary for moss control. Organic fertilizers naturally contain iron and other micro-nutrients, but not enough for moss control. Moss control or “moss out” can be purchased separately or in combination with a lawn fertilizer.

If you make your first application of fertilizer before April first, a second spring application which contains slow release nitrogen (organic or chemical) should be applied in May or June (normally about 2 months between applications).

FERTILIZE TREES, SHRUBS AND OTHER PERMANENT PLANTS

Most permanent plants need fertilizer once a year in the spring. Mature trees don’t need fertilizer other than what they get when other plants around them are fertilized. Their roots go well beyond their branch area. Roses need fertilizer about once every 6 to 8 weeks. Most perennial flowers do fine with one spring fertilizer application. I fertilize annual flowers and vegetables when I plant them. I usually fertilize a second time in early to mid summer. I use lawn fertilizer for all my woody plants. I use a general purpose fertilizer with approximately equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (16-16-16 or 6-6-6) for flowers and vegetables.