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Spring Cleaning Time - March

By Lynette L. Walther
A mix of spring-flowering bulbs and perennials shares the sun at the edge of the garden. Photo: Lynette L. Walther
By Lynette Walther Opening up the windows and letting the sunshine and fresh air pour in, cleaning out all that winter brought in and welcoming spring isn’t the only ritual of this season. Long slumbering, your garden is waking up and needs attention for spring planting and a bountiful summer. According to the American Phytopathological Society (APS), an organization of professional "plant doctors," this is the perfect time to start planning summer gardens, whether ornamental or vegetable. The organization offers the following suggestions to help get gardens ready for spring planting.
Cleaning debris from ornamental beds now gives
spring-flowering plants such as these bellworts
and grape hyacinths a healthy environment with
fewer plant pathogens. Photo: Lynette L. Walther
• Mulch your soil (let it warm up first in northern gardens). Mulching will conserve moisture and reduce the time needed for weeding and watering. Be careful to keep the mulch away from contact with the stems or trunks of plants to avoid encouraging fungal infections. • Remove old, dead leaves from the garden to keep early blooming flowers, such as irises and tulips, healthy. Plant pathogens will often over-winter in old leaves. Removal and destruction of dead leaves helps reduce the risk of re-infection. • Redesign, on paper, your vegetable and flower gardens to allow for good air circulation and plan to purchase stakes and cages to keep tall, vining plants off the ground. One of the best ways to keep tomato and other substantial plants off the ground is with a tepee made of three or four stout stakes or poles securely fastened at the top. The broad stance of the structure means that it won’t topple over when the plants get heavy with fruit. • Stakes, cages, and trellises from a previous season should be cleaned before re-use. • Remember to clean tools after use. Soil on garden tools can harbor plant pathogens. Try dipping them in a solution of one part household bleach mixed with four parts water. Vinegar is also a natural anti-fungal. • Purchase only high quality, healthy plants. Annual flowers and vegetable transplants should show good color and have no dead or yellowed areas. Avoid cell packs with stunted, sickly or missing plants. Check the roots: they should be white and vigorous looking. If using seeds, take care that they are fresh or have been stored properly. Bulbs, tubers, roots, and corms should be firm and have no obvious mechanical damage or mold. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization. The research of the organization's 5,000 members members advances the understanding of the science of plant pathology and its application to plant health. The time we’ve all been waiting for is at hand. Let the planting begin!

Contributing Garden Editor Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and the IABC Silver Quill Award of Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association. She gardens in Camden.

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