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Thu, Sept. 19

It's time to lay groundwork for spring gardens

Courtesy photo<br>Preparing for wildflowers begins now.

Courtesy photo<br>Preparing for wildflowers begins now.

The spring season for nursery owners started last fall and ends in a flurry of activity as the new year approaches. Preparing for spring is easy for me once I've put in the right planning and the last of the crop decisions have been made.

Computers help in preparation, but getting out and talking to customers to get a feel for the local economy is much more helpful. That's what I've done, and that's why I'm planning on crop increases of 7-8 percent through spring of 2011. This may seem optimistic, but the crops have been committed!

The ordered flowers plugs have arrived and are in the greenhouse as this goes to press. Trees and shrubs have been pruned back one last time for the spring growth push. Many of the new tomato cages, watering cans, and stylish new garden gloves for 2011 arrived this week. I'm still working on two new organic fertilizer registrations for the state of Arizona and five new bug killers to be introduced next spring, so I'm ready to dig into the new year (pardon the pun). I really am looking forward to the garden season to come. Spring 2011 should be very good.

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This rain is every gardener's dream! If we receive a few more good storms like we've had this week, wildflowers should be over-the-top this spring. I usually wait until the first rains in January to write about wildflowers, but weather has been absolutely perfect for spreading wildflower seeds.

The high country of Arizona has the perfect climate for wildflowers, but there are a few secrets to successful sowing. First has to do with the seed mix. I've found a seed mix that works really well and is super easy to use. The "Ultra Wildflowers" seed collection by AmTurf includes the mulch, seed, and fertilizer premixed in one easy-to-use bag. It's a very good mix for our region.

"Beauty Beyond Belief" is the seed of choice for wildflower purists. It is the best collection of truly wild seeds collected throughout the Rocky Mountains for use at high elevations. This family business is so helpful to local garden centers that, by working together, we were able to develop an "Arizona Mix" of wildflowers. This mix is my favorite, but I have dozens of other good local wildflower mixes as well.

You have plenty of time to plant your wildflowers, but try to finish by Valentine's Day. There are four simple steps that really make a difference between wildflower success and failure. Here are the specific planting techniques that I count on to guarantee breath-taking crops of wildflowers:

Step 1: Select and prepare the planting area. Wildflowers, except those that are shade loving, need a considerable amount of sunshine so choose an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Planting in weed-free soil assures optimal results so pull out any growth you don't want mixed in with your wildflowers. Then rake the seedbed to loosen the top 1 to 2 inches of soil. I find that better growth occurs when a natural plant food is raked into the seedbed when loosening the topsoil. My "All Purpose Plant Food" is well suited for this use. It releases slowly throughout the spring and is exactly what's needed during the germination period because slow feeding creates healthier roots and better flowers.

Step 2: Create your own hydro mulch. Some of the seeds in a mix are so small you can barely tell if you've spread the seeds evenly across the soil. Buy a bag of composted mulch, pour it into a wheelbarrow and mix in the seed. Spread this seed-mulch blend over the prepared seedbed. This simple trick helps you see where the seed is placed, ensures good seed-to-soil contact, insulates the seed and camouflages it from hungry birds.

Step 3: Keep the seedbed moist. If sufficient moisture is present, seeds will start to germinate by the end of February through April, as soon as soil temperatures warm. Regardless of planting location, your wildflowers will require supplemental water if it doesn't rain enough to keep the seedbed moist. A layer of snow over your seedbed is perfect for wildflowers. It maximizes germination every time without extra watering.

Step 4: Re-seed. In the fall, after the blooms are off and the seed heads are ready to drop, you can help spread your wildflowers for the following spring. Just trim back the drying plants with a weed whacker. Besides pruning back the flowerbed, this will send a mixture of seeds flying throughout the garden for next season's growth.

Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.

Ken Lain says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right." Throughout the week, Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or may be contacted through www.wattersonline.com.

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