YOUR GARDEN - Early spring or not, time to get growing

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I am a skeptic when it comes to predictions. I doubted the world would come to an end in 2000. I have no plans to put my effects in order before the 2012 Mayan end-of-the-world prediction. I doubted new Coke would be better than old Coke.

And I have little faith that people can predict winter weather in the Valley.

Every fall people tell me what kind of winter we will have. This year pundits called for a lot of cold temperatures and snow.

How did those predictions work out? How come the predictions are always about bad weather? No one ever says, "Hey dude, don't buy those snow pants, we are in for a serious Southern California winter this year."

Despite the warmer winter we have been experiencing and the recent nice February temperatures, I would encourage caution when it comes to predicting an early spring. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for an early spring. I just don't trust the weather at this time of the year.

How does all this weather stuff relate to your garden and landscape? Basically, I suggest we garden lovers don't get too excited just yet.

The next four to six weeks are a great time to do the post winter cleanup. Remove leaves and debris from garden beds and lawns to reduce the risk of disease.

Trim trees, shrubs and plants you failed to trim before winter, steering clear of trimming early spring blooming perennials such as Forsythia, Witch's Broom, and Lilacs. Trimming plants that bloom in March or April will not kill the plant, but greatly reduce the spring flower show.

It is also time to start your vegetable garden and annual flower seeds. Home Depot, Bi-Mart, and Walmart should all have seed starting supplies. You can buy basic vegetable and flower seeds at these box stores, but for a better selection of seeds shop the internet. You might take a look at Renee's Garden, Botanical Interests and Totally Tomatoes.

In early March think about putting down a lawn and ornamental bed pre-emergent weed control. Pre-emergent weed controls work to stop weed seeds from germinating, and some pre-emergents kill weeds that have already developed. Most pre-emergent products continue to fight weeds for six to eight weeks after application.

The first lawn fertilizer should be applied about mid-March. Use a basic all purpose lawn fertilizer or, if you did not apply a pre-emergent to your lawn, use a weed and feed product at this time. Lawn fertilizers can be applied about every six to eight weeks throughout the summer. Every product is slightly different so follow the manufacturers suggested application and frequency rate.

For the organic gardener, start turning the soil in ornamental and vegetable garden beds to begin early weed control. Weekly raking or turning of the soil in these beds will greatly reduce weed production. Later apply a surface compost or mulch to further suppress weeds and feed plants in these beds.

Organic lawn fertilizers are also available, or apply a thin layer of a good quality compost to the lawn in early March. The compost will feed the lawn, improve soil quality and help break down debris below the surface of the lawn.

If you're in the mood to plant flowers, make sure they are cool weather annuals, such as pansies, violas and primroses. You may be able to purchase other summer flowering annuals, but I would suggest holding off until late March. All it takes is one nighttime freeze to shock warmer weather annuals.

The same holds true with vegetables. Plant cold weather varieties like spinach and lettuce first. Wait to plant tomatoes, squash and melons until April, then remain vigilant until May, covering these crops when temperatures drop below 45 degrees at night.

Though I try not to make predictions about the weather, I will break my rule and predict this about the upcoming spring: Expect surprises and plan for it to be quite different than last spring.

Bryce Rugraff is owner of The Plant Company and Plant Company Landscaping in Walla Walla. He can be reached at 525-1272 or at theplantco@gmail.com .

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