Saturday, May 16, 2009

Best Plant Tips For April

By Kent Higgins

Except for the extreme North, the gardening season begins about the first of April in all parts 0f the area. First thing on the agenda is the annual spring clean up.

This consists principally of the removal of the debris that accumulated in the yard and on the lawn during the winter, the uncovering of garden beds and the removal of coverings from evergreens, recently planted trees, clematis vines, roses and other plants that require special winter protection.

Usually the home lawn gets the first attention and there is little need to encourage this activity early in the season. However, in many quarters there seems to be considerable reluctance to remove the leaves or other coverings from garden beds until later in April when frosty weather is less likely to occur.

As a rule, winter protective coverings are kept in place too late and as a consequence, plants may be injured unnecessarily. This is particularly true of roses. Mildew, molds and diseases get established on the canes when coverings are left on too long. Plants are much better off if exposed to the weather early in April. Roses are never injured by low temperatures that may re-occur for a brief time during this month. They develop better when exposed to the sun and air early in the season. It is important to remove winter mulch early so that the earth that was hilled over the base for special winter protection will thaw rapidly, permitting removal as soon as possible.

After unhilling, pruning is next in connection with the spring care of roses. Hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras are cut back to about six to ten inches or lower if winter die-back of the canes was unusually extensive. Pruning should be done just below the injured area, cuts being made in live tissue and all the canes cut back so that they are about even in length so that new growth will make a more uniformly shaped plant.

The pruning of climbing roses is restricted only to the removal of dead canes or dead parts of live ones because blossoms are borne on the canes that developed last summer and survived the winter. This is the reason why it is so much more difficult to grow climbers in the North where subzero temperatures take a heavy toll of this type of roses.

Plant in April

Dormant roses of all classes and kinds are best planted in April. This is a major exception to the recommended best time for planting which in many other parts of the country is in late fall. Dormant roses should be planted as soon as the earth is in good digging condition, not too wet. A large hole should be dug so that the roots may be spread in a natural manner rather than cramped into a small space. Although the exact size of the hole depends Upon the size of the root system, a good rule is to make it about 18 inches in diameter and the same measurement in depth. The sidewalls of the hole should be straight rather than tapering inward, a common tendency when digging.

Soil at the bottom should be forked or spaded loose and a cone of earth placed in the center upon which the roots of the plants are to rest. This cone of earth should be packed very firmly so that the soil will not settle down and away from the roots later when watering is done. Roses are planted deeper in the North than else: where; the graft should be at least two inches in the ground. This is necessary to provide the plant with the extra winter protection required in this cold country.

After setting the plant at its proper depth, soil is placed over the roots and firmly packed and the hole filled except to allow space for watering. The soil is then thoroughly soaked and additional soil added and hilled over the canes which were cut back to about eight inches before planting was started. This is done to protect the canes from the drying effects of the sun and wind until the roots are established and sprouts occur, at which time (generally within ten days or so) the canes should be uncovered.

However, they should not be uncovered on a hot, sunny, windy day because this would be fatal to the fresh, tender sprouts. Instead, a cool cloudy day should be chosen for this. Also instead of soil, the canes may be covered with sphagnum moss or a square of burlap which is kept moist constantly until it is removed.

Rose growing is gaining in popularity every year in the North. Gardeners are learning how to grow them successfully and have discovered that rose growing is not nearly so difficult as it is commonly believed.

Fertilizing Flower Beds

After the winter coverings have been removed from flower beds, and the soil is in workable condition, fertilizing should be done. Generally one application of a complete commercial fertilizer, always used as prescribed by the manufacturer, will be adequate for the season for perennials and the bulbs that bloom in the spring (tulips, daffodils and so forth), also roses. This application is made while doing the first tilling of the soil for the season.

Trees or shrubs that must be transplanted should be moved as soon as possible in April. Transplanting is accomplished with a minimum of setback if the plants are dug and re-set before they start to sprout. Risk of injury to the plant increases daily after the buds start to grow. Only in cases of extreme necessity should they be moved after the buds show green and growing tips. All deciduous, woody plants should be pruned back when transplanted. At least 25 percent of the top should be removed in order to make a more equitable balance of root and top and so that there will not be too much top for the roots to support.

Evergreens are not cut back but should be dug with a ball of earth tightly wrapped in burlap or plastic (better done by a professional than an amateur" get your nursery to do the balling and burlapping, or get an experienced worker to help you).

April is the ideal month for the planting of all woody plant materials, trees, shrubs and evergreens because the weather is mild, moist and relatively cool. Growth is not forced by higher temperatures that prevail later on in the planting season, and the roots have a longer time in which to get re-established before the top makes a great demand for water and nutrients.

Early spring also is the best time to fertilize trees, shrubs and evergreens because they make their principal annual growth in May and June when they will be requiring a ready and generous supply of available nutrients. Again the recommended kind is a complete commercial fertilizer consisting of the three principal elements of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash in approximately a 1-2-1 ration. Fertilizer should be evenly distributed and lightly scratched into the soil. Spring applications of fertilizers for all kinds of plants do not have to be watered down because the soil is moist and rains are adequate.

Besides taking care of established plantings, April is the time to start new gardens and lawns. Soil preparation and improvement is the first step.

The earth must be loosened by cultivating with a spade or fork; plowing or rototilling for large areas. Soil improvement consists principally of adding organic matter, peat, compost, good topsoil and manure. This is incorporated into the soil during the tilling operation along with a generous amount of complete plant food. The bed is then ready for planting or seeding.

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