2007-03-15 / About Town

The Island Garden

By Roger Marshall

Last weekend was a nice change from the cold we've had recently and I spent it planting peas, spinach and some herbs - in the greenhouse, that is. It's still too cold to plant outside yet, but there's a lot you can do to get ahead of the curve when the ground is finally warm enough to plant.

Fruit trees

Now is the time to prune your fruit trees, before the sap rises. First cut off the suckers - that is, the long straight shoots that grow up the middle of the tree and tend to clog it up. Next, prune off any branches that rub against each other. Where the branches rub opens the bark and can lead to infection. On some plum, cherry, and peach trees, you might see signs of black knot disease. It's a black growth rather like somebody wrapped a small piece of old spongy tire around the branch. Be very careful when pruning it out. First, dip your pruners in a cup of water to which you've added two tablespoons of bleach to kill off any organisms. Cut below the growth and put the cut off section in the garbage or burn it, don't put it in the compost. Before you make another cut, dip your pruners in the cup of bleach again so you won't spread the disease.

After you have pruned, and as soon as temperatures are above 50 degrees, spray the entire tree with dormant oil to kill off overwintering insect eggs. Try to get this done in the next two or three weeks so you'll have time to spray with a fungicide before bud break.

Soft fruit Prune out last year's fruiting growth from your raspberries. It will look grayer than this year's growth. Prune out last year's growth from red and black currants. If you have strawberries, check to see how the plants are doing and cut the stalks connecting new plantlets to the mother plant. The new growth should fruit this year. Wait on applying mulch until the ground warms up a bit. You might want to cover rhubarb with a cloche to try to force some a little early this year. Otherwise you'll have to wait for it all to come at once.


Rake old mulch off your asparagus bed to help it warm up faster and get those spears going. As soon as you can, prepare the beds for spinach, peas, and potatoes. While spinach and peas benefit from a little fertilizer, don't fertilize the potato patch. Organic fertilizers tend to give potatoes scab.

Flower beds

Remove the debris from last year to help this year's growth start growing. Replace mulch as needed. I prefer to wait until the ground has warmed up a little before putting new mulch down. If squirrels dug up your bulbs over the winter you might want to replace them and put chicken wire over the bulb bed. Put mulch over the chicken wire to "hide" it. Remember to mark where your bulbs appear this year so you'll know where to put new ones when the bulb foliage has died back. Weeds tend to grow fast, long before your flowers come up, so make sure you keep flower beds weed free.


There's not a lot you can do for your lawn yet, the ground is still fairly cold. You might want to check to see if there are any brown spots on the lawn where the grass has died back. If there are, you'll need to lay in some grass seed to patch the dead spots. If you have areas of your lawn where the grass has died back or you can lift a whole sheet of dead grass, you may have beetle larva in the lawn. The best organic treatment for this problem is Milky Spore disease. You can get it from Gardens Alive www.gardensalive.com. Simply apply the spores when the ground temperature is above 50 degrees and the spores seek out the bugs. They burrow into the larva and eat their way into it, killing it. When the job is done the spores stay in the carcass until more grubs come along and then they attack them. One treatment can last up to fifteen years. It doesn't harm your pets or kids either and the package comes with complete application instructions.

You might also want to buy some fertilizer so you can apply it as soon as you see signs of growth. You might also apply a little lime. Lime doesn't fertilize the lawn; it changes the ph slightly and makes it easier for grass to take up fertilizer. If you lime, you'll have a better lawn. Jamestown Hardware carries both products.

Return to top