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Much to do before gardening starts

Posted on April 18, 2018 by Mark and Ben Cullen

Time to sweep away the mouse droppings in your garden shed. Spring is here and mice have moved out of doors for gardening season. You should consider joining them.
Here are the top five tasks that will help you enjoy the great out of doors while preparing for your best gardening season ever:
1. Soil prep. Your gardening success hinges on it. Ben is an urban “container gardener.” He removes the soil from his outdoor planters, including his hanging baskets and window boxes and spreads it on his allotment garden. Used container mix lacks nutrients needed to grow plants two seasons in a row. Replace it with a quality mix that will retain moisture, allows excess water to move through it and contains nutrients. Ben uses Promix, but there are other quality container mixes on the market.
In Mark’s large vegetable garden, we spread mushroom compost mixed with 30 per cent sharp sand, which adds porosity, about two to three centimetres thick over the entire planting area. We do not turn it under. Earthworms do much of the job for us as the travel up to the surface of the soil and pull the nutrient-rich compost into the sub soil. Compost benefits everything that grows, especially asparagus, rhubarb, perennials and roses, this time of year.
2. Control overwintering insects and diseases. As organic gardeners, we recommend that you apply dormant spray to your edible crops like fruit trees and berry bushes now. Roses and most flowering shrubs also benefit from an application. The combination of refined mineral oil and lime sulphur helps to minimize insect and disease problems later in the year. Apply when the flower buds have not burst into bloom and while night time temperatures are above freezing.
3. Clean up your tools. Wipe clean and oil garden tools. Sharpen digging and weeding tools either with a bastard file or have the local “tool-sharpening guy” do it. Many hardware stores still offer this service as well. Get your lawn mower blades sharpened also. Change the oil, clean and oil the cutting deck.
4. Fertilize your lawn. Your lawn has been sleeping (dormant) all winter and like a bear it is hungry. Your lawn has been fasting and has an empty stomach. An application of high nitrogen, slow release formula fertilizer will help to get it off to a good start. Look for iron in your spring application as well, as it provides the deepest possible green. Be sure to rake your lawn lightly before you apply lawn food, getting rid of loose debris and making the grass blades stand up. This will help circulate oxygen through the crowns of the grass plants, preventing snow mould and disease.
5. Sow grass seed. Now is the perfect time to thicken an established lawn or start a new one. Rake the area to remove debris. Place a two- or three-centimetre layer of compost or lawn soil over the area and rake that smooth. Sow grass seed at the rate of one kg. per 100 square metres (one pound per 400 sq. ft.) and double the rate if you are starting a new lawn. Rake smooth. Step on it or roll it with a lawn roller that is one-third filled with water. Fertilize and water thoroughly, keeping the area damp until germination occurs. Don’t let your new lawn dry out completely for the first eight to 10 weeks. Alternatively, you can spread a 4-in-1 compost/seed/fertilizer/iron mix that will thicken your lawn without the fuss.
Sow frost hardy vegetables like peas, carrots, beets, Swiss chard and leeks. Also, start your onion sets out of doors now.
Leaves and needles from trees will rot down nicely and provide fodder for the worms, so leave them. Cut down ornamental grasses and perennials left standing from last year, but don’t rake up from under them.
Don’t work too hard. Migratory birds are visiting your garden now, and if you have your head down all the time you just might miss them!
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.

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