Mother Nature can turn on a dime! She had us going there with those fake snowfalls, I must say. Killing frosts ARE over. Leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears.
So, let’s get down to it. First of all, just about anything you buy at a nursery, and by all means you should be buying now, can be stored outside unless you live in a very cold microclimate. Just make sure things are put in the shade and are protected from winds and they should do fine hardening off from the git-go. If it drops below 35 degrees, you might want to move them indoors or cover them.
It is time for some lawn work. If you have not already, once you are sure the lawn is dry, mow over the accumulated winter debris. This will clean things up quite a bit. Here is the good news: do not bag things up. Obviously, pick up the big limbs, but everything else should be chewed up and left in place as feeding mulch for the lawn’s microbial herd that feed the grass plants.
The only reason you would need to collect any of these gleanings is to use as mulch on perennial beds and to feed a compost pile brown, carbon-filled material. However, make it easy on your back. Amazingly, not everyone reads this column so you will be able to collect a half dozen or so great bags of terrific mulch from neighbors. You know my line, preferably take bags from a dog-less yard.
My other rule is to do nothing else to the lawn except make sure it gets at least 2 inches of water between you and any rain. This will green it up and probably be all you need for the entire season if you leave your clippings every time you mow. After the grass starts growing again, you can decide if you want to feed it. Do water it, however.
This means hoses are going to be needed. Get yours out. There are three hose rules: No leaks, (which may necessitate new washers or repair if it is a terrific hose), be able to reach all your gardens and, use quick connects on both ends to attach hose to faucets and to watering instruments. Nothing difficult.
Garden beds may need a bit of attention but not rototilling, a practice of the past. It destroys the soil food web. If you think your garden needs help, put down ⅛ to 1 inch of compost or organic microbe foods such as non-sulphur, granulated molasses or fish meal. Be aware that if you mulched regularly in previous season, you probably do not need to add anything other than more mulch or compost. You might want to have your soil tested for nutrients.
Finally, nurseries are where you should be spending some time. There you will find most of the starts of vegetables and annuals you might want and you will probably buy a few packs of them. I have not yet urged that you come up with a crude yard plan and a plant list before you visit them, but do so now. Walking into a nursery without a list is a bad idea.
Remember when you buy annuals, it isn’t always the best idea to get them in full flower. They might then set seed instead of developing new flowers. If you do buy things in bloom, pick them off as soon as they begin to fade. And don’t forget, the biggest is not always the best when it comes to veggie starts. You want to grow them, not have the nursery do so. Also, you might want to put a plastic tarp in the car to keep it clean on the trip home.
Jeff’s Garden Calendar
Harden off plants: Nothing goes into the ground that has been indoors until it is acclimated to the UV of the sun and the drying of the wind. This is called “hardening off." Put things in the shade and leave for two weeks. Water. Or after a few days of shade, expose to sun for increasing hours every day for a week.
Potatoes: Start yours now outdoors. Leave room for hilling. Consider growing them in a deep container. Buy seed potatoes, not potatoes from the store.
Summer squash, cucumbers and pumpkin: Start indoors.
Onion sets: Plant ‘em outdoors now.
Other vegetables to start outdoors: Peas, spinach, onion sets, potatoes, chard, mustard, kale.
Flowers to plant outdoors now: Sweet peas.