U of I Extension
Answers for Early Spring Garden FAQs
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[March 20, 2020]
University of Illinois Extension and Master Gardener Help Desk phone
lines have seen more action recently, especially when it comes to
what can be done outside. Here are a few that may ring a bell for
Q: I am going to start my own vegetable and
flower transplants this year. Can you give me some best practices?
A: Here are a few that will give you the best chance at success.
Start by estimating your expected planting date in the garden and
then read the seed packet label to determine when seeds should be
sown indoors. Use fresh seed, use new or very clean seed starting
flats, and use new seed starting soil mix (media carried over from
2019 can easily be contaminated). Media should be kept moist and
never waterlogged to avoid seedling rots. Saved your seeds?
Find out more here.
Q: I am eager to get the yard cleaned up. I
know it is early but what can I do on those mild weather days?
A: Right now, hold off on any “heavy” cleanup. You can start by
simply cleaning up the overwintering debris that has blown into the
yard. Good examples are papers and plastics that escaped the recycle
can, leaves that have blown in, and twigs and smaller branches that
have come down too. Attempting to rake out the perennial or ground
cover beds is a bad idea. Leave that alone so you do not disturb any
buried new growth or accidently pull out valued plants that have
heaved up over the winter. You could take a visual inventory of bed
lines that will need adjusting or maybe weeds that will need to be
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Q: I have left over fertilizer and some spray from last
year. How good is it?
A: If your granular fertilizers have been kept dry, they should be fine. If
moisture has been in the bag, it will be clumpy and not flow properly through
the spreader. The fertilizer itself is likely still good, so using it for hand
broadcasting in beds will be a good way to put it to work. Pesticides will be
another story. If they are wettable powders and kept dry, they will last for
several seasons. Products that are emulsifiable concentrates will often separate
right in the container with age and not be any good. Products that are a liquid
and have not been frozen also should be ok, but if there is any separation, they
are a goner too. A good rule to follow is buy just enough to get through the
season so you are using fresh products every year. Always use and follow label
Q: Can I still do my fruit tree dormant pruning or is
it already too late?
A: Even though the weather has been moderating and we have had a few days of 40
degrees and above, those fruit trees have not started to come out of winter
dormancy. That means they can still be pruned. Be sure to prune well before bud
swell so you do not waste plant resources. Save the peach trees for the last,
and you may even want to wait until they begin to flower to see which branches
are going to have peaches before you start to prune.
[Richard Hentschel, Horticulture
Educator, University of Illinois Extension]