Spring preparation in the perennial garden

By Linda C. DOLAK

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

If we want our perennial garden, or any garden, to look nice in the summer, we will have to start working in the spring, before the plants begin to bloom.

If you have ordered, and received, bare-root plants, it’s best to pot them to allow them to establish, sheltered outdoors, preparing them to be planted in the ground.

This also is a good time to clean, oil, sharpen and disinfect your garden tools.

If you haven’t already, now is time to remove any protection you have used to cover your garden space during winter because plants begin growing and need sun.

Even though we get antsy when the snow is gone and the sun comes out, we don’t want to get out too early if the soil is too wet, especially if there is clay soil. The compaction you have created will make it more difficult for the plant roots to grow, and the soil loses the pore space needed for air and water.

On the other hand, don’t start too late.

If any of the plants have “heaved” up from the ground or if mulch was removed by squirrels and chipmunks, be sure to press them back in and get the roots covered.

Start spring cleaning by removing dead, decaying plant matter from last year. This is an excellent place for pests and diseases to harbor during the cold months, so get them out.

Good garden soil should be deep, loose, fertile, well drained and near neutral. A lot of decayed organic soil will help achieve this.

Organic matter will be less expensive compared with material you may purchase. Some choices are: last year’s leaves, bark, sawdust, shavings and other wood products. Wood products are less likely to contain weed seeds.

If you are starting a new garden, or if your garden is several years old, you may have to improve the soil.

A good test you can do on your own: take a handful of soil from a 3-inch deep area. Squeeze it firmly and then drop it on the sidewalk. If the ball does not shatter, don’t try to dig or rototill because you will end up with hard clods of soil that slow root growth.

When the soil has dried enough, spade or till about 6 to 8 inches. The soil does not have to be flour-fine – don’t overdo it.

When you are not sure what kind of soil you have and what you need to do to balance it, contact OSU Extension at 330-533-5538 to inquire about soil testing and related questions.

Perennials such as tickseed, Shasta daisy, garden phlox, asters and coneflowers have green rosettes at ground level, so you need to be careful not to disturb them when working your garden.

Others, such as perennial geraniums, daylily, bee balm and the like can be cut back almost to the ground, and will regrow from that point.

When fertilizing your plants, remember that it is better to apply too little rather than too much.

For more information and a chart of perennial care through the year, see http://go.osu.edu/perennials.

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