Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Timely Tips for February

Here's my latest "Timely Tips" article for the Marion Gardener.

NOTE: For some inexplicable reason, the Powers That Be at the Extension edited out my recommendation to drink Martinis while pruning trees so you could sterilize your shears in your drink as you went along. So I put it back in here.

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County (February)
David Y. Goodman
UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener

The madness is back. Can you feel it?

Clutch your wallets and purses, gardening friends – alluring trays of veggie seedlings are everywhere. And don’t forget the pots of flowers… brimming seed racks… birdhouses… shiny new lawnmowers… whimsical yard art… kink-free hoses… flower-printed gloves and all the other sordid paraphernalia of green fever.

Yep. It’s time to get started on your spring garden. Hurry! It’s almost too late!

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult or expensive to get a plot started. Seeds are the cheapest route and often do better than transplants. Why? Because they root in place and acclimate right where they are, rather than being under or over-watered in a garden center, getting bound up in their own roots and dealing with random light conditions in the process. When you plant a seed in place, it can find its own pace and never has to deal with the considerable shock of transplanting or “hardening off.” You can plant a garden for a few bucks if you start with seeds. And if you’ve got access to homemade compost or rotted horse or cow manure, you certainly don’t need to buy dirt. Even trenching in your kitchen wastes can make a big difference. Or you can take a cue from the Indians and dig holes, toss in some meat scraps, kitchen waste, fish, road kill, manure or all of the above… then cover with soil and plant on top of that. From personal experience, I can tell you that’s a great way to grow squash and other vining crops.

As for tilling, consider double-digging instead. It certainly takes a lot longer, but the results are incredible. My double-dug beds significantly outperform areas where I’ve used tilling alone. Also, if you turn up an area of decent soil and don’t keep it damp, or mulched, or seeded immediately, it rapidly turns into a patch of sandy desert. Don’t do it! Topsoil is hard enough to maintain around here.

Vegetable gardening aside, this is also the time of year to bust out the pruning shears and attack your trees and shrubs. Make sure you sterilize the shears in between similar species so you don’t inadvertently spread disease. Alcohol is a great way to do this. If you’re a drinker, simply dip the blades of your shears in your Martini as you sashay through the yard. (Just don’t do this when trimming oleanders or it’ll be your last drink.)

As the weather warms up, keep water needs in mind. This is usually a dry time of year and plants really feel the lack of water in warmer temperatures. Water well and top off beds with mulch to keep moisture in. Just make sure to water good and deep every week or so, rather than shallowly and often.

Enjoy a wonderful new year of gardening – and if you see a two-for-one sale on flower-printed gloves, pick up an extra pair for me. They’re… uh… for my wife.

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