The recent heavy rains and cold temperatures of March have left many of us pondering if spring would ever come. However, as each day passes the season seems more respectful of the calendar and with that, the pulse of the garden quickens.
April could easily be defined as a “preparation month.” The emphasis of garden activity revolves around the preparing for the rapidly approaching summer season.
Soil preparation — It is hard to overemphasize the importance of good soil preparation. Clean up your garden spaces, remove winter debris, add, fluff and top off existing mulch, spade in compost to your vegetable garden.
In turning your soil, “less is more” is a good rule to follow, always remembering the complex microbial balance your soil is attempting to achieve (refer to the Master Gardener column in the March 31 Yakima Herald-Republic). If you choose to use a rototiller in your garden, it is generally advised that you keep the number of passes to a minimum.
Plant preparation — It is time to reintroduce those plants held in their winter reserve to their natural environment for the late spring, summer and fall seasons. Bring out those stored geraniums, fuchsias, begonias, etc., and encourage their renewal process by placing them in a warm, light-filled location for progressively longer periods of time.
Lawn preparation — If you enjoy a massage or having your back scratched, just imagine how your lawn benefits from these techniques. Take the time to rake your lawn, and through this process raise the nap, remove debris and bring light and life back to your turf.
After you have sharpened your mower blade and as you contemplate mowing the first time, remember to adjust your cutting height so no more than one-third of the grass length is cut.
Perennial preparation — If you did not have time to divide your perennials last fall, now is a great time to do it.
Irrigation preparation — Winter gremlins enjoy testing the integrity of your irrigation system. Take a moment to check and test your system before warm weather returns to the Valley and you have many other garden priorities bidding for your time.
Garden preparation — Minimize disease and pest buildup in your vegetable garden through a regimented rotation practice. Notes on your garden layout last year are a great help in rebooting the memory. If you missed maintaining a log on last year’s garden, plan to do so this year.
Take time to rake out the debris that has accumulated in your flowerbeds. This can be quite a task in perennial beds that are mature. Look for small rakes at garden centers that are made for this job. Also check your flowerbeds and borders for weeds. Remove them now and you will be ahead of the game as the gardening season progresses.
A good layer of organic mulch will help to keep weed seeds from germinating. If you mulch your flowerbeds and borders with bark chips, fluff them up so that air and water will work down to the soil. Replenish your mulch if it has begun to thin, which it will as it slowly decays over several years.
In the vegetable garden, eliminate weeds that are already starting to grow before you beginning planting your garden. (Do you detect a pattern of advice that is being repeated again and again?) Annual weeds are easy to get rid of: Hoe or pull them out by hand. Perennial weeds and grasses, such as quack grass are another story. Removing all the roots and rhizomes of this pernicious weedy grass is all but impossible. You may need to resort to using an herbicide before you begin to plant your cool weather crops.
Prepare for the negative — weeds. Weeds are persistent and enduring residents in our world. A quick start in controlling them will pay huge benefits as the season progresses. If your first line of defense, a weed-inhibitive blanket of mulch, needs help, your hoe and hand pulling are great backups for common annual weeds. For perennial weeds such as quackgrass and dandelions, the limited and careful application of an herbicide may be in order. April is generally considered too late for effective use of a pre-emergent herbicide. Whenever you apply herbicides of any type, be sure to read and follow the label directions closely.
Prepare for the positive — You may have already planted some of your early cool weather vegetables. If you haven’t planted them yet, April is a good time to plant vegetables such as lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach and cabbage.
Prepare to share — In your planning, remember to plant a row for the needy and to share your garden bounty generously.
Finally, prepare to celebrate and relish spring.
• WSU Extension Master Gardener Program is an organization of trained volunteers dedicated to horticulture and community service. Questions about gardening, landscaping or this program can be directed to the Master Gardener Clinic at 509-574-1604 or visit the WSU Extension office. The clinic is open through October on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (except holidays) from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. You may also visit the Master Gardener Booth at the Yakima Farmers Market on Sundays starting May 12 and continuing through October. The new location of the WSU Extension Office is 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100 in Union Gap, phone 509-574-1600. New volunteers are welcome.