Whoa there!

Longtime garden center owner Jim Denning details spring gardening mistakes to avoid

Written by Joe Stumpe

You’re basking in the warmth of a beautiful late-winter, early-spring day when it occurs to you that your houseplants would sure love a little sunshine, too.

Wrong. Unless outdoor conditions have consistently warmed up, it’s better to keep those plants inside a little longer. When it is warm enough, move the plants first to outdoor shade, then give them more and more direct sunlight.

“Any change to a plant should be gradual,” said Jim Denning of Denning’s Greenhouse and Garden, 10707 W. 21st St. “It should not be switching back and forth between growing conditions each time. They have to adjust, and each time they have to adjust they will drop some leaves.”

That’s just one of the tips Denning offers after nearly 35 years in the business. After running a garden center in Colby, Kansas, for 10 years, Denning and his wife, Becky, built one on Wichita’s west side in 1991. When it comes to plants, Denning said, what you don’t do can be nearly as important as what you do. Here are 10 more common spring gardening mistakes to avoid:

DON’T fail to water outdoor plants monthly if no rain or snow falls. Make sure the plants get at least one inch of water per month during the cool early spring. “The best way to do it is put it on a very slow trickle and let it run for an hour” or so on each area of the yard or garden that needs it. “That way not much water will be used, but it will be where it needs to be. It will soak in and not run off.”

DON’T apply crabgrass pre-emergent too late. Apply it when redbud trees are in full bloom, usually around April 15.

DON’T apply broadleaf weed killer to control grassy weeds. Read all labels carefully to make sure you are using the right product for your needs. Denning noted that some grassy weed killers “will kill lawn grass, too. You have to be careful. However, there are new ones in the last several years that will actually select established crabgrass and not hurt your lawn grass. It’ll really tout it on the label.” If unsure, ask a garden center employee.

DON’T let grass grow around newly planted trees. Keeping grass a least three feet away from the trunk can help a tree grow two to three times as fast during the first two years. “It [grass] is just a solid mass of roots that are sucking water and nutrients from around the tree.”

DON’T plant vegetable seeds too early. Figure out when the soil temperature outside will be best for transplanting, based on the average of past years, then work backward from that date allowing for the recommended number of weeks from seedlings to transplanting.

DON’T wait too long to divide perennials. Divide perennial root clumps before new growth appears. “It goes along with waiting too long to prune. Do that [dividing] when it’s dormant. Don’t wait ‘til it’s got sprouts over it and then try to separate it. It can hurt it.”

DON’T plant vegetables too early. Wait for the soil to reach optimum temperature before planting vegetables. Tomatoes like it at 50 degrees, peppers at 60. Setting them out too early can delay development. Soil temperatures can be found in the daily newspaper and online sources. If you don’t want to play each type of vegetable separately, Denning said, “pick an average” temperature.

DON’T wait too long to spray fruit trees with fungicide/dormant oil. Fruit trees, especially peach trees, must be sprayed around March 1 (and regularly afterward) for the products to be effective. “Fruit trees in general can have a lot of issues,” Denning said. “It’s just a good idea to hit them early. If you wait till you see any symptoms, it’s too late.”

DON’T expect a great yard or garden to happen by magic. Denning said many of his customers spend an hour on weekdays watering, pruning or otherwise tending to their property, and on weekends more.

“Obviously, they love it.”

 
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