Originally Published: February 22, 2014 6 a.m.
There are a couple of benefits to planting larger-growing conifers before April. The first is that, knowing that garden centers stock up early for the spring planting season, informed gardeners buy early. This guarantees cream-of-the-crop selections before the general public makes its purchases. Early shipments contain pine, spruce, cedar, cypress and others in this family of large evergreens.
Second, conifers are slow growing. Buy them before they break dormancy in April and your money is better spent than when new candles add another foot of height and girth. Many nurseries will upsize, pot shift to larger containers, and charge more for the larger tree. Point being, for the best selection and best value plant new evergreens before their spring push.
My last bit of evergreen advice is especially important for gardeners facing major landscape projects. Choose smaller specimens of fast- growing trees and shrubs as these will catch up quickly with the rest of the landscape. Poplars, willows, elms, and aspens are trees in this category; shrubs that grow quickly are lilacs, red tipped photinias and cotoneasters.
Buying small sizes of faster growers frees landscape dollars so you can afford the largest size possible of the slower growing spruce, pine, cedars, maple, ash, and the like. This approach maximizes your investment to present a mature-looking landscape within year one of plantings.
Spring weather signals the start of certain gardening tasks that are essential to maintaining a vital, healthy garden. They should be completed within the next several weeks. I'm a list guy, and following is my springtime procedural list in order of personal importance. Hope it helps.
1. Finish pruning everything in the yard including roses, fruit trees, and summer-blooming shrubs. Then rake up old leaves, cut back dead growth on perennials and remove leftover annuals and vegetables from gardens and containers.
2. Apply "Weed & Grass Preventer" before the next weather system hits. This granular seed killer will keep the worst of early spring foxtails, dandelions and horehounds from emerging in rock lawns and flowerbeds. Preventer
must be applied before the weeds emerge or it will be too late to be effective.
3. Watch for aphids on willows, aspens, and apple trees. These pests are easily eliminated with an application of liquid "All Season Spray Oil." All fruit trees should be sprayed before their spring bloom. Spray roses at the same time.
4. Feed everything in the landscape by the end of March. I created an all-natural food especially for the mountain gardens of Arizona, and it really works. Use my 'All Purpose Plant Food' 7-4-4 on lawns, flowerbeds, shrubs, trees, and all garden soils you will use for planting. I also administer an application of 'Soil Sulfur' at the same time. If you're uncertain about what, when, and how to feed your garden, ask for the handout of my 4-step program for feeding a landscape.
Don't forget your natives! Our weather is too nice for this time of year, so I am worried about bark beetles damaging ponderosa and pinion pines. When well fed and healthy these trees can defend themselves better against these vicious forest invaders.
5. Top-dress flowerbeds, shrubs, and trees with a 2" layer of shredded cedar bark or, if you prefer, composted mulch. This new layer of protection will insulate the roots from cold nights and drying spring winds that lie ahead. This simple act also keeps weeds at bay and encourages better root development.
6. Use my "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4 to nudge old lawns awake and to jump-start new seedlings. March is the best month to start a new lawn and to overseed an old one. For more detailed advice, ask for my handout "10 1/2 Steps to New Lawns and Overseeding."
7. Pinion pine scale should be making its unwelcome appearance in just a matter of days. Watch for signs and treat with specially formulated 'Plant Protector'. You do not need to be an arborist to apply this easy-to-use bug solution, and one application protects trees for the entire year. Besides those trees attacked by scale, I definitely recommend feeding stressed trees as well. Reading into the theme here?
8. Before planting your garden, cover the area with a 2-inch layer of composted mulch and manure topped with gypsum and "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4. Then turn this organic-rich material into the garden's soil to one shovel's depth. You are now ready to plant spring flowers, herbs, and vegetables.
9. Go ahead and plant early spring flowers and vegetables as soon as soil is prepped. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic and onions already have arrived at the garden center. Pansies, violas, dusty millers, English primroses, poppies and early spring blooming perennials also are ready for planting. All of these plants love the warm days and the chilly nights of early spring.
That's the list. Indulge your garden with these minimal maintenance tasks and you'll find your spring flowers brighter, the evergreens greener, and your spring growth more exciting than ever.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted via www.wattersgardencenter.com.