This year, the spring yardwork/gardening season is not only delayed, it’s also likely to be compressed.
That means we’re likely behind and facing a crunch as that traditional last frost date – typically around May 10 – approaches. That’s when new plants can be planted without fear.
To deal with the crunch, here are some tasks you can do now so it will be clear sailing come planting time. You can accomplish some in 15 to 20 minutes – or break bigger ones up into chunks.
It may be too wet and too early to mow, but take a portion of your lawn and rake up the leaves and sticks that are inevitably scattered there, says John Woodmansee, Purdue Extension educator for Whitley and Noble counties.
Sticks can savage mower blades, he says, and leaves can “shade out turf, and encourage mold to grow underneath them.” Don’t worry about fungicide – exposing mold to the air “should be enough to take care of it,” Woodmansee says.
While you’re at it, pull weeds and any spent plants from the vegetable garden. Dump some of those leaves on it and mulch-mow them later, before tilling them into the soil closer to planting time, he says.
If you already have one or more, now is the time to loosen soil, and, yes, direct-sow seeds for cool-weather crops such as spinach, radishes, peas, members of the cabbage family and lettuces, says Brian Young, greenhouse manager for Young’s Greenhouse & Flower Shop in Fort Wayne. In a sunny and reasonably dry spot, you might even be able to plant these in the ground, he says.
If you don’t have a raised bed, now is a great time to make one. You don’t have to improvise; manufacturers offer kits, such as the Greenes kit, available at garden centers at Meijer. For $39.99, the kit contains precut, red cedar wood, slips together and makes a 16-square-foot garden with a soil depth of 7 inches. There’s no cover to shield tender plants, but a sheet of painter’s plastic will do in a frost-prone pinch.
Did you let your ornamental grasses stay tall over the winter? That’s OK, Woodmansee says. But now they need to be cut back to a couple of inches above the crown to encourage new growth. Another plant that is safe to hack back now? A butterfly bush. Those can be cut to within a foot or so from the ground. According to Jane Ford, a local master gardener, you can also prune fruit trees, grapevines and evergreens if they are still dormant.
Carefully adding compost or mulch around and under emerging plants helps hold springtime moisture, Woodmansee says. Save some for later – when you plant new arrivals, you can add more.
Who doesn’t need a bit of color? Pansies, in a pot or in the ground, will do just fine, even if it gets chilly, Young says. Some pansies completely froze at his place on a recent cold night, but they thawed and are doing well, as if nothing happened.
“They’re pretty resilient little plants,” he says.