Binetti: OK, the time to rest is over, get to gardening

On GardeningMarch 12, 2014 

The second week of March is when your gardening task list really begins to grow. Add these:

Perennials: Now is your chance to divide and multiply late summer perennials.

Dig up overgrown daylilies, asters, mums and coral bells now and use an ax or sharp shovel to divide large clumps into smaller sections. Toss out the inner, older core of these perennial plants and replant the new side shoots.

Improve the soil: Add compost to any area that needs replanting.

Add perrenials: You can also plant seeds of frost-tolerant perennials such as calendulas, columbines, pansies and sweet alyssum directly into the ground this week.

Weed patrol: Pulling weeds now before they flower will prevent millions of new weed seedlings this summer.

Hands off: Do not prune climbing roses that flower just once in the spring such as the pink flowering Cecile Bruner rose or any other spring flowering vine like akebia or early blooming clematis. Wait until after these climbers bloom or you’ll miss out on this year’s flowers.

Now, a few questions from readers.

Question: I have a new raised-bed vegetable garden filled with nice black soil I purchased. I am ready to plant seeds but confused about what crops I can plant now and which ones must have warm soil. What is the rule here in Western Washington? — P., Kent

Answer: The best rule of green thumb for planting seeds is to read and follow the instructions on the seed pack.

I like to use seeds from a local company such as Ed Hume seeds because they are packaged for our cool summer climate with special growing instructions.

Now might be the time to plant cool-season crops such as lettuce, carrot, spinach and radish, but only if your soil drains well and can be worked.

To test your soil, pick up a handful of soil and squeeze. If water drains from your hand and the soil stays in a ball or clump it is too wet to work. If it crumbles apart it can be safely hoed, dug or turned and raked and then planted.

Some seed packets will tell you to wait and plant after all danger of frost is passed. Those would be the warm-season crops such as corn, beans and cucumbers. Wait until after mid-May or even June to plant the seeds of these heat-lovers into the soil.

Q. I have a compost pile that looks done. Now how do I use it? I do not have a vegetable garden. — J.H. Puyallup

A. Congrats on letting it rot. Your trees, shrubs and flowers will appreciate your compost if you shovel it around their roots now. Try not to let the damp compost sit up next to the stems of shrubs such as rhododendrons that are prone to stem rot but pile it right on top of hungry roses, daylilies, hosta and other emerging perennials.

Be sure to read the next question about compost and weeds.

Q. When I spread my homemade compost around my plants, I get weeds sprouting up. I thought compost was supposed to keep down the weeds not add more. Am I doing this wrong? — J., Email

A. The garden gossip about home-grown compost is that in our climate it rarely heats up enough to kill every weed seed in the pile. The good news is that the compost in the center of the pile will be the most rotted and this is the best for adding to planting holes or working into vegetable beds.

The compost on top that is still course with chunks of branches and leaves is the mulching compost to shovel around trees and shrubs and smother young weeds. Another tip is to accept that weeds will sprout and just make a point to hoe and rake out the new weeds a few weeks after you spread compost around your garden.

If you purchase compost by the bag at a garden center or nursery you will not have the problem of sprouting weeds. A compromise is to layer your homemade compost on top of your beds now to improve your soil then top it off with bags of weed-free compost from the garden center.

A layer of wood chips or bark chips as a frosting on top of your compost will also smother any young weeds.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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