If you have been to any home improvement store recently, you might think that you are way behind the eight ball with your vegetable and flower planting. We all get the urge to get started as soon as the calendar says it’s spring. Now is the time to exhibit some self- control, as much as you may want to put those tomato plants in the ground! On the other hand, get out there and get busy. There are things to be done and things to be planted!
Officially, the “frost date” for our zone (7a) in Northern Virginia is April 23rd, but that doesn’t tell the whole story; while that is the average date of the last frost, there’s a 50% chance of getting frost after that date. To be safe, many prefer to wait until May 1st, or even Mother’s Day. (In 2013, we even had a rare post-Mother’s Day frost!) If you’re not sure of your frost date, visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac site to learn more. For more details, data fans will appreciate this page, which really breaks down the probabilities of first and last frosts.
The moral of the story: Yes, our days are getting warmer, finally, but our nights are just too chilly for those summer crops. If you are still itching to get started, let’s talk prep work. It’s not as much fun as planting your peppers, tomatoes, heat-loving herbs, and melons, but in the long run, you will feel so much better.
TO DO LIST
Let’s get pruning! Shrubs and bushes, ornamental grasses and groundcover such as liriope can all be pruned now. Even if they have some new growth, it’s okay. As long as they don’t have all their leaves and there aren’t any flowers or blossoms, you are good to go.
Cut off any dead or broken branches on your shrubs at the point where they connect to the next larger limb. If there are branches rubbing against one another, cut one of them back, cutting it slightly above one of the buds. Also, look at the bottom for suckers/water sprouts – new stems growing up from the base. You can trim those off, too.
Cut ornamental grasses all the way back – just leave a few inches at the bottom. Liriope can be given a “haircut”. Trim off all the long growth from last year and you will see new growth. It’s easier to do if you rake through it first, removing dead leaves and getting the “tangles” out. Here’s a great before/after example of liriope that is ready for spring:
“Now on to my favorite prep job, weeding!” Said no one ever. Pretty self-explanatory. Kill them or pull them. If you are pulling them out, it’s much easier to do immediately after a spring shower. If you have a compost pile, do not add pulled weeds, just trash them. Whichever method you choose, do it before those pesky weeds flower and spread their seeds.
Mulch is the icing on the cake. It’s easier to spread if it’s dumped into small piles and you use a rake to spread it throughout your beds. Ideally, it should be 2-3 inches deep. Keep it a few inches away from the base of your plants so they can breathe. To finish the job, water the mulch a bit so it can settle into the soil.
Now that the chores are out of the way, what can you plant now without worry? Cold weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, chard, broccoli and cabbage can safely be planted. Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and parsley are safe bets in the herb category. If you are itching for some color in your yard or containers but can’t stand the default pansies, many other annuals, including bacopa, nemesia and gerbera daisies, are fine with cool nights but will not be happy in frost. Stick to containers so you can bring them into the garage if needed, or at least be prepared to cover them to protect them from frost.
For your perennial planting pleasure, hostas, phlox and dianthus can be planted now, too.
For all of these plants and more, join us for opening day at Cox Farms Corner Market! The season begins today, April 10th at 10am. For more information go to our website: http://www.coxfarms.com/corner-market/spring.aspx
We will see you at the corner! Happy planting!