An Ounce of Prevention
Many gardeners like to start seeds indoors and a number of vegetable crops can be started in February and March for transplanting in spring. One of the most frustrating diseases for gardeners when starting seeds indoors is“Damping Off” disease. One day the tiny seedlings look great, the next day they are flat and dying. Damping Off is a name given to several fungus diseases that attack the roots and stems of tiny plants. The best tip–rather than trying to treat the disease–is avoiding it in the first place. You do this by:
- Thoroughly cleaning any reused trays and pots using soapy water, rinsing, spritzing with hydrogen peroxide, letting sit 20 minutes, then wiping dry;
- Using seedling mixes instead of garden soil or potting soil which can harbor the disease. Potting soils stay too wet and compact, inhibiting air exchange;
- Watering seedlings from the bottom instead of over their tops and not saturating the soil;
- Using a small oscillating fan to gently move the plants several hours per day to prevent the disease by drying out the top of the soil while strengthening plant stems.
The steps above will also help prevent the appearance of annoying soil fungus gnats whose larvae like to eat organic matter… including the tiny roots of seedlings!
- Fill a unique pollinator niche in your garden – add mason bees.
- Finish pruning fruit trees, raspberries and summer and fall-blooming shrubs by the end of the month. Wait to clip spring bloomers until their flowers fade.
- Use a soil thermometer to help you know when to plant vegetables. Some cool season crops (onions, kale, lettuce, spinach) can be planted when soil is consistently at or above 40F.
- Watch for pests and diseases. Hose off aphids; put out your favorite slug bait. Control rose diseases such as black spot by removing infected leaves and spraying as necessary with a registered fungicide.
Making Tools Work for You
No matter the season, keeping your garden tools in good repair will pay dividends in time, effort and efficiency. Never put your tools away dirty. Scrape or brush off dirt, quickly rinse with water then dry. If there are sticky spots – from sap perhaps – apply a few drops of a light multipurpose oil then wipe off. If there is rust, add a few drops of oil, scrub with steel wool then wipe off. Once your tools are clean and rust free, sharpen if needed using a mill file or sharpening stone. Tool handles of unpainted wood also require maintenance. After sanding off any splinters, apply a coat – or more – of boiled linseed oil dependent upon how dry the wood is. For a quick and easy storage of your cleaned tools, or tools that haven’t gotten dirty during brief use, place them in a bucket filled with oiled sand. This will keep them rust free. Check the tire air pressure on garden carts and wheelbarrow with pneumatic tires and oil the wheel bearings for all wheels. Two safety tips:
- When using your tools on diseased plants, spray them with isopropyl alcohol or bleach before moving to the next plant to avoid spreading disease
- Never pile your oily rags in a heap. Hang to dry to prevent spontaneous combustion
- Monitor aphids on strawberries and ornamentals. Control with water spray, hand removal, or registered insecticides labeled for the problem plant. Promote natural enemies (predators and parasitoids that eat or kill insects) for a longer-term solution.
- Before mulching your beds, consider laying down a soaker hose to minimize the time you save watering and to cut down on water usage.
- Watering slowly and deeply encourages your plants to build deeper root systems, and lessens the need for frequent watering.
- Prune your early flowering deciduous shrubs as they finish blooming.
Add a Pollinator Garden
One of three foods on your table depend on pollinators that include insects we all know: bees, butterflies, flies, wasps and beetles. But these pollinators cannot survive without nectar, pollen and host plants.
Create a healthy environment for insect pollinators by providing a garden that blooms from early spring through late fall, plus adding plants that repel pests (marigolds, geraniums, lavenders and mint). There is no minimum size. All you need is a sunny area, a rocky bee-perch, water basin and pollinator plants. If you do not have a yard or space, add pollinator plants to containers on your patio, deck or balcony. Equally important is avoiding insecticides and pesticides, which can kill bees as can plants from growers that use neonicotinoids. Go to the Xerces.org to learn how to best protect your pollinators from these chemicals.
For small gardens plant zinnia, sedum, aster, Joe-Pye weed, rue, liatris, parsley, chives, bee balm and goldenrod. For larger gardens plant campanula, catnip, chives, parsley, hyssop, lavender, sedum, native goldenrod, bee balm, rue, liatris, aster, sunflowers, scabiosa, coneflower (single petals), dahlias (single petals), black-eyed Susan, Joe-Pye weed and milkweed (Asclepias especiosa, Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata).
In your vegetable garden add companion plants that are good pollinators. Mix cosmos with cucumbers, basil with tomatoes and calendula with summer squash. Alyssum, bachelor’s button, bee balm, nasturtiums and rosemary are great additions, too. Plant dill, oregano, sage and thyme liberally. Bees and butterflies will love you if you let your herbs go to flower!
- Consider keeping a garden journal with frost dates, planting maps of your garden, seed and plant lists, successes and failures, photos, and other information that will make you a better gardener.
- Allow the foliage of spring-blooming bulbs to brown and die down before removing as it manufactures food for next year’s blooms.
- Wait until the soil temperature in your beds reaches 60 degrees to plant warm season vegetables.
- If using slug bait, scatter it widely. Encircling plants you want to protect will draw the slugs to them.
- Delay mulching until the end of April, early May to let your beds warm up.