With recent spring-like weather, gardening enthusiasts may be tempted to get a head start on planting. But they should refrain, area experts said, instead using the opportunity for preparing gardens, as well as pruning trees, shrubs, and bushes.
“February has been abnormally warm, and the forecast is for that warm weather to continue,” county extension agent Rickey Roberts said. “Let me caution against trying to speed the calendar up to much, as freezing weather is still very likely, but as long as it is nice, there are a couple things we can do.”
Now is a good time to turn garden soil provided it isn’t too wet, as clods could form, Roberts said. Soil tests also should be taken [Please see the article on basic soil tests below.]
Gordon Malin, a master gardener who helps with Marion Community Garden, said the ground might be too cold to work but that people can start getting their gardens ready.
He recommended gardeners acquire compost from city compost heaps, and working fallen leaves into gardens.
“That stuff is the finest fertilizer you could ever find,” Malin said. “Leaves are the finest compost in the world. They are what remain of all the micronutrients that tree roots brought up.”
However, he cautioned against using oak tree leaves, as they are high in acidity. People could start clearing debris out of their gardens and planning what they want to plant, he said.
“I strongly discourage any planting before March 1st or until we start to get warmer weather,” Malin said. “You’ve got to get past the last killing frost, and who knows when that might be.”
Roberts said the first thing gardeners should consider is if they will eat what they plant.
“You should take into account what your family likes,” Roberts said. “You also have to consider how much space you have. If you have a small garden, something like a watermelon may take up the whole garden.”
He said now through March is a good time to prune fruit trees as long is the wood is not frozen.
Pam Byer, a certified arborist who also helps with Marion Community Garden, said there are a few rules of thumb to go by when pruning.
“This is the perfect time of year to do it because the sap is down in the ground,” she said. “The main thing is to remove any dead, damaged limbs as well as branches that might be rubbing against each other.”
Old branches on shrubs should be pruned as “shrubs like air movement” and new branches tend to grow more vigorously, Byer said.
If two branches form a narrow angle, prune one out, Roberts said. Narrow angles are weak and tend to break during wind or ice storms.
He said all suckers, branches that grow straight up and original from the trunk or from major branches, should be removed, too.
“If cutting back a branch, always cut back to another branch or a bud,” Roberts said. “Do not leave a stub.”