The end of February means there is still time to clean up and cut back ornamental grass clumps so that the new green shoots won’t have to fight through the old, brown grass leaves.
You also can start to clean up the soggy or dried stems of plants in the perennial garden. Good garden cleanup now will cut down on the slug population later.
Early spring vegetables such as peas, cabbage and lettuce can go into the ground as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked. Give your soil the squeeze test before you plant. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. If water runs out between your fingers and the mound of soil forms a ball, then the soil is still too wet for planting.
Q: I have dahlias but last year some of the flowers did not develop properly and formed leaf clusters or partial blooms. This has never happened before. Can I reuse the tubers that had this problem last year? — N.A. Tacoma
A: In short, no. It sounds like your dahlias were infected by Aster Yellows disease.
This pathogen is carried by the leaf hopper bug and infects asters, carrots, dahlias and other plants by causing foliage to turn yellow and flowers to be deformed. Aster Yellows is considered a viral infection and there is no known cure. Destroy infected plants and tubers to keep the infection from spreading. My sympathies.
Q: I purchased six primroses to put into a window box. One week later I have missing blooms and leaves with notches and holes. I do not think this was done by slugs because the window box is four feet from the ground. I did have slugs destroy my primroses last year. What do you think is eating my primrose blooms? — T.T. Sumner
A: My best guess is slugs.
Climbing four feet into a window box is nothing to a hungry slug, and tiny baby slugs may have been hiding under the primrose leaves or on the sides of the nursery pot when you brought them home. You can visit the plants at night with a flashlight to confirm the diagnosis and then use a slug bait or spray the tiny slugs with a mix of one part ammonia to three parts water. The ammonia spray must make contact with the slimy slug bodies to work. It basically skins them alive but also feeds the primroses at the same time. Ammonia converts to nitrogen. If you are squeamish, remember you are not killing living creatures, you are feeding hungry plants. (plus the dead bodies of the slugs contain some nitrogen that will return to the soil as well.)
Q: What plants should I NOT be pruning when I go outside to clean up the garden in early spring? — L.H. Federal Way
A: Great question. Do not cut back tender plants that hate cold weather.
Pruning them early in the spring can stimulate growth and if we get a hard freeze in March, tender plants woken up by a haircut will suffer needlessly. Do not prune fuchsias, salvias, lavenders and sage plants or rhododendron or azaleas that are budded and getting ready to bloom. Pruning a rhododendron or azalea in early spring might not kill the shrub, but you will be cutting off the flower buds and the plant will find this insulting. Tender plants can be pruned back in May once all danger of frost has passed.