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Gardening: It's spring -- but not planting time

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News


It's tempting to jump right into gardening when the weather warms, but stepping all over the lawn now may damage it.

Spring arrived at 5:58 p.m. on March 20, but it will be a few weeks before gardening season takes off. 

A warm sunny day above 50 degrees may bring on a massive attack of spring fever but let me sound my annual and important reminder – working or even walking on wet turf does more damage than good. So, while you may think you're getting ahead of the game by raking up leaves and picking up sticks off the lawn, if the ground is soggy or frozen, you’re compacting the soil and damaging the crowns of the grass plants. Better to spend your time cleaning out the garden shed and sharpening your tools.  

If you have to walk on the lawn to fill the bird feeder or get to the shed, take a slightly different path with every trip to minimize the injury.

To prevent the spread of the deadly oak wilt, pruning of oaks should only be done when the trees are dormant. Contact a certified arborist for advice. To find a professional in your area go to www.tcia.org and enter your ZIP code.

If needed and not done last fall, fertilize trees this month. Spread a granulated organic fertilizer, such as Tree Tone, evenly under the canopy of the tree according to package directions. Tree spikes may take less time, but the nutrients move down through the soil, not out, so they don’t do a thorough job. And do not concentrate the fertilizers at the base of the tree. The roots of mature trees spread beyond the tree canopy so take wider swath for them.  A broadcast fertilizer spreader is the best tool for this job. Read the directions on package for specific instructions.

Cut back decorative grasses as close to the crowns as possible before new green shoots emerge. Cut the tops off new growth and the damage will show throughout the season.  Wrap a bungee cord around the standing grass blades to hold them in place while cutting. It’s best to wear leather gloves for this job as grass blades have razor sharp edges and make cuts in your hands, which resemble paper cuts that are very painful. A hedge trimmer or reciprocating saw are good tools to use for this job. Special blades for recip saws are available at hardware stores.  A bulletin from Michigan State University says cutting the grasses to ground level allows sun to get to the middle of the stand and prevents the center from dying out and having to divide them. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.