Gardeners be careful: spring hasn’t sprung just yet

Want to learn more about lawn care, pruning and the art of gardening? Marianne Binetti will be teaching a six-part class at Green River Community College starting Tuesday. For details, visit, or phone 253-288-3400.

  • Monday, March 30, 2009 10:00pm
  • Life

Want to learn more about lawn care, pruning and the art of gardening? Marianne Binetti will be teaching a six-part class at Green River Community College starting Tuesday. For details, visit, or phone 253-288-3400.

It is the first week of April, but don’t be an April Fool and think that winter is behind us. After such a long, cold winter (with snow in March) gardeners are more than ready for spring – but it hasn’t sprung just yet.

There is plenty to do in the garden this week during breaks in the April showers but most important are the jobs you meant to get to last month: rake storm debris from the lawn and use a spring lawn food now, prune back your hybrid tea and tidy up the shrub roses if you haven’t already taken a pair of loppers to them. Spread compost, manure or well-rotted leaves on top of any soil you need to improve and remember that any weeds you prune or smother now mean hundreds fewer weeds this summer.

Q. I want to plant vegetables this spring. When can I start planting seeds into the ground? R.K., Olympia

A. That depends on what type of vegetable seeds you are planting. Gardening is an art, not an exact science, but for most crops it is still too early to put seeds into the cold, wet ground. Now is a good week to buy seeds however, as the double digit increase in vegetable seed sales has some companies running out of stock. There are “cool season” seeds like lettuce, carrots, radish, Swiss Chard and cabbage that can be seeded into the ground this month, but then there are “warm season” crops like tomatoes, corn, peppers and squash that need warmer soil so they must be started indoors now or just wait and plant warm season crops outdoors in May or June once the weather has warmed. Peas can be planted this week as they love cool weather and cold soil. Just keep an eye on the crows. They love to dig up newly planted pea seeds as soon as you turn your back. Placing a board or netting on top of newly-seeded beds will help protect the seedlings.

Q. Is it too late to plant strawberries? L.B., Bellevue

A. Certainly not. Strawberry plants can be sold bare root by the bundle (dirt cheap) or already in bloom in small pots or gallon containers. The bare root berries need to get into the ground this week as they will be waking up from dormancy and noticing that they are naked and bare, with no soil around their roots. Strawberries and other berry plants like blueberries that are sold potted up can be added to the garden any time of year. You’ll pay more for potted berry plants but get an earlier harvest and more berries because these potted plants had soil around their roots in the winter which wakes them up from their winter slumber. Potted strawberry plants are easy to transplant into the garden now and give almost instant gratification – you’ll harvest a crop this summer.

Q. I have a Heavenly Bamboo plant or Nandina that has black leaves and looks dead. Should I dig it up and throw it away or do you think there is hope that it will come back to life? L. H., Longview

A. I am going to go out on a dead limb here and guess that your Nandina turned black because of the harsh winter weather. If so, it will return like a phoenix to rise again with new life, but as a much bushier plant as most of the new growth will come from below. This means you should cut back the tall stalks to at least half their height or until you begin cutting into healthy tissue. Cutting back dead-looking shrubs is one task where you can procrastinate because even if you do nothing the new growth will appear from the roots that are still alive. Some gardeners wait until June so they can see the new growth sprouting and remove anything dead above the new growth line. Hard winters are just Mother Nature’s way of forcing us to clean up our gardens and help make some new space to try new plants.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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