Belcarra Garden Club
BC, Canada

Pre-Spring Chores
By Nora Boekhout and Les Bramley

It has been wonderful to see the days getting longer but the blast of Arctic weather reminded us that it isn’t Spring yet!  Spring arrives March 20 but our local Frost Date (the average date of the last light freeze) is April 13.  A few items on those February/March garden chore lists seem rather optimistic when we are looking through the windows at snow!

Here are some garden chores suggested by the resources listed below.  For full details, please check the websites.

* Until the frosty days are over, continue to protect your vulnerable plants with breathable fabric such as burlap. Choose non-toxic, eco-friendly alternatives to salt on those slippery surfaces.

* It’s time to check your gutters, drains, and catch basins for debris.   Check your trees and shrubs for overwintering diseases and insect pests, frost cracks and other signs of damage. Repair any winter damage and take hardwood cuttings from trees, shrubs and vines before spring growth begins.

* Prune your fruit trees before bud swell. Some plants may be ready for pruning, (roses, some hydrangeas, and some species of clematis) but not the Spring flowering plants like forsythias and lilacs!  Don’t trim your lavender back until the weather warms, and then only lightly.

* Start planning your garden, thinking about what to start from seed and what to buy. Don’t buy starter plants too early unless you can keep them indoors! Enjoy those seed catalogues!  Some of your indoor seeds can be planted if you have warm, sunny windows or good grow lights. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers need a 6-8 week head start, so counting back from our last frost date is NOW!

* Many garden sites recommend getting a soil sample checked to see what amendments may be needed. You can get a soil pH test to do yourself.

* Don’t start your cool season crops too early.  The soil temperature should be at least 10 degrees Celsius, and it shouldn’t be too wet. Cool weather veggies include broccoli, peas, onions, leeks, lettuce, and spinach; root veggies are beets, carrots, and radishes; perennial herbs seeds are chives, sage, oregano.  A vented cloche is very helpful, as are cold frames.

* You may be ready to start some weeding.  Remove dead flower stalks. Don’t do full clean-ups though, as many of our beneficial insects are still under the leaves. The “chop and drop” method becomes a natural mulch.  If the soil is dry enough, you can add a thin layer of compost 2 to 3 inches.  Slugs and snails will soon be eager to munch on those emerging bulbs, spring pansies and primroses. Be aware!

* Lift and divide your perennials, the exception being early bloomers like Pulmonaria (lungwort), which you divide in late summer or fall.

* It’s time to check those overwintering plants such as geraniums.  Cut off dead stems to healthy nodes and remove spindly stems. Check your stored tubers for rot or shriveling: dahlias, begonias, cannas, gladiolas.

* Take this time to clean and disinfect your pots, tools, and sheds.

* Keep your bird seed fresh and dry. Clean your hummingbird feeders and keep your nectar from freezing.

* You can start feeding your Houseplants on a regular but light feeding plan.

Notes from Les: We will be starting our seedlings now, using a seed box with a grow light plus heat pads.  72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) is the magic figure.
Soon we will bleach the green house and pressure wash it. Then we move in the seedlings, with a small electric heater that is turned on as required. Plants will be moved into the vegetable garden as the weather dictates.

Notes from Nora: It’s amazing to see that shoots have already appeared on my protected fuchsias and overwintered geraniums. Even my gryphon begonia is sprouting leaves on those thick bare stalks!  I guess I had better get ready for Spring cuttings! Those grow lights will be busy!

Don’t forget that this year’s color for “Live the Garden Life – Canada” is PURPLE!  Plant Canada Purple!  Purple has a variety of effects on the mind and body, including uplifting spirits, calming the mind, enhanced feelings of spirituality and encouraging imagination and creativity.

Here’s to the start to a Great Year for Gardening! 

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