2011-02-10 / News

Preparing for the spring: Pruning and pot cleaning

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

If you are a gardener you probably have a shed full of plastic pots; that is, if you haven’t given them to a gardening friend who has a shed full of plastic pots.

If you plan on using your pots for spring plantings and seeding, you might want to clean them to ensure that they do not harbor viruses and other germs that might kill your seeds or new plants.

To clean your large pots and seed trays I recommend using a garbage bin. Fill it about three-quarters full with water and add a cup of bleach. Use a scrub brush with a long handle and wear rubber gloves. Simply toss your pots into the garbage bin and leave them there for an hour or so. As you pull each pot or tray out, scrub off the old dirt. If the pot had a lot of dirt, dip it back into the water as soon as it is clean. Stack your pots where they can dry and you are ready to go.

That’s not the only thing you can prepare for next season: why not start pruning your fruit trees, raking leaves off perennial beds, or cutting back your perennial beds to prepare for new growth?

While plants are dormant is an ideal time to catch up with all the work you often cannot see when they are growing. For example, you might want to start pruning your fruit trees, now that they have no leaves.

First, prune out the watershoots. These are the usually upright straight branches that grow from any place you might have cut back last year. If you leave watershoots on the tree, they’ll eventually clog up the middle of your tree and it will lose vigor and not set much fruit. When pruning, try to prune so that your tree looks like an upside down hand with an open space in the middle and its larger branches splayed out like fingers. This keeps the middle of the tree open and allows for a greater fruit set.

Also when pruning, do not prune more than about 20 percent of the tree away. If you do, you’ll get vigorous growth but little fruit set. Figure on pruning out about 20 percent per year over the next four or five years to bring your tree back under control if it has grown into a thick mess.

Most gardeners leave perennial beds until late in the year to enjoy last minute colors and to leave seed heads for the birds. This year you might want to put out a bird feeder and trim back perennial beds after the ground is frozen and you can walk on them without compacting the soil. Of course, while the ground is frozen, you won’t be able to dig out weeds, but you can just mark them and dig them out in the spring.

Also check the mulch on your garden beds. Bare areas will need to be covered before weeds start growing next year. Areas with very heavy mulch might need to have some of it raked off to help plant growth. It’s not commonly known, but rotting mulch absorbs a lot of nitrogen and plants grown in deep mulch often need a nitrogen boost in spring.

If you have plants with leaves that are yellowing slightly or have yellow areas between the veins, you probably have plants with nitrogen deficiency. This is especially true for plants that have roots covered with heavy mulch. Treat them with a high nitrogen fertilizer – lawn fertilizer without pre-emergence or other additives – in spring when the plants need a good boost.

This is also the time of year to check on your plants and see what died last summer, what plants self seeded and appeared miles from where they should be, and what plants are growing in the shade of another plant. You can move dormant plants and trees anytime over the winter as long as the ground is not frozen. Dormant plants – even bare root – usually survive the move as long as you move them while they are dormant.

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