The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 15, 2014

Explore; Preparation pays off when it comes to beginning spring gardening

— On a warm, sunny spring day, it’s tempting to make purchases at a garden center, then hurry home to get them planted.

Don’t. Not yet.

“Sometimes we get some wonderful days and then still have frosts in April and even May,” said Carthage master gardener Dennis Neil. “But there’s plenty to do now to get ready for gardening.”

Neil, a retired school administrator, has spent the past several weeks in his garden amending soil with compost he makes out of kitchen scraps and lawn trimmings, establishing a drip irrigation system, and prepping his tools for a season of use.

Regional horticultural specialist Patrick Byers, with the University of Missouri Extension Service in Springfield, said such tasks will have a big payoff during the growing season when it comes to the health of a garden, the ease of its maintenance and the yield of its produce.

He recommends focusing on four chores now:

Collect a soil sample. Doing so will show what needs to be done to amend the soil to prepare it for the growing season.

“A single sample will suffice, but we usually suggest taking five or six over your entire garden area,” Byers said.

Collect several samples from the upper 8 inches of a garden area and mix them together to form about two to three cups of soil.

Take the samples to a county extension office, where, for a nominal fee, they will be analyzed in a lab. In Jasper County, for example, samples may be taken to the office in the Carthage courthouse for a cost of $15.

“It will pay off in the long run,” Byers said. “You will know what your soil needs in terms of specific nutrients, and you’ll know what it already has.”

 Prep garden equipment and tools. Doing so will increase efficiency.

“Now is a great time to spend a few hours sharpening your pruners, your shovels, to check your garden hose for leaks and make sure it is working properly,” Byers said. “Check out your power tools. Start each one up and make sure they’re working, even if you don’t need to use it quite yet. Change the oil in each one, look at moving parts.”

Blades that need sharpening can be done at home with a file and vice, or they can be taken to area dealers to be sharpened for a fee.

Clear back old growth. Doing so will improve plant health and the look of your yard and garden.

“Plants like maiden grass and liriope need to be cut back every year, and you can prune your roses back at this time,” Byers said. “This is also a good time to prune summer and fall blooming shrubs — crepe myrtles, rose of Sharon. You can clean up your evergreens — we have seen a certain amount of winter damage this year — especially with junipers, but no deep pruning. If you leave any bare spots, they won’t grow in.”

Prepare soil once soil sample results are in hand. Doing so will improve growth and yield, retain moisture and lessen weed growth.

“Add manure, if needed, because it supplies organic matter, which is so helpful,” Byer said. “Work with an area farmer as a source if you have a large garden. But make sure it’s aged, or you apply it 120 days before you harvest any vegetables you’re going to eat raw.”

Neil also recommends anyone who gardens or tends a lawn start a compost pile, which can be done on a shoestring budget or using more refined building materials for a higher degree of aesthetics.

“Then you can add to it throughout the season as you have grass or garden clippings and so on,” he said. “By next year at this time, you’ll have something to add to your garden full of nutrients.”

Add mulch, Byers said, to prohibit weed growth and retain moisture.

And lastly, plant.

“Cold-tolerant things can be planted now,” Byers said. “Potatoes can be planted any time from late March into early April, and, of course, onion sets, too. If you have a cold frame or protected area, you can start cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli. They do better in cooler temperatures.”

Now is also an excellent time to plant fruit trees, provided the soil is not to wet.

“Buy a quality tree to start with — bareroot — and don’t plant it too deeply or too shallow. If it’s growing in a container, dig the hole a bit larger than the container,” Byers said.

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