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Ask the Master Gardener

For beginners and those more experienced alike, growing a garden can be confusing.  Elisa Lauritzen, USU Horticulture Intern, answers a few common gardening questions.
Q:  When can I plant my cool season crops?
A:  You can plant your cool season crops now!  Spring crops can be planted as soon as the soil is workable (dry enough).  This usually happens between mid-March and the end of April.  Some plant suggestions are:  spinach, cabbage, radish, broccoli, peas, and rhubarb.
 
Q:  What can I do if the weather turns cold after I’ve planted?
A:  The simplest thing to do is to use a floating row cover (garden fabric, blanket, shade cloth, or by the brand name Reemay).  The material is very light and can be placed directly on the crop that you’re trying to protect.  You will need to ensure that it is secured to the ground (garden staples, rock, or bricks all work well) so the wind doesn’t carry it off.  Floating row cover will buffer your plants some 3-5 degrees.
 
Q:  I’d like to fertilize my garden and perennial plants.  How much and what kind of fertilizer should I use?
A:  Having your soil tested should be the first order of business.  The results will tell you how much of each nutrient you already have in your soil and give you a good idea of your soil deficiencies.  After you have a baseline, then you can determine which type of fertilizer is best for your soil.  Lawns have a different requirement than gardens do, as do trees and shrubs.  As a general rule, lawn areas require about 2-3 lbs. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. per year.  Gardens do best with 2-4 cups per 100 sq. ft. of a complete, all-purpose fertilizer applied in the spring.  Trees and shrubs have different requirements.  Most don’t need additional fertilization.
 
Q:  How do I manage the weeds in my garden?
A:  The easy answer is “very carefully.”  We recommend creating and following an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.  Determining the type of weeds you have is the most important step.  The two most common types in gardens are annual (one growing season) and perennial (two or more growing seasons) weeds.  After you’ve determined which type of weed you have, then you can plan your attack.  It may come as a surprise to some, but the best way to manage weeds is still by hand pulling them.  We recommend that weeds be removed when they are young seedlings.  If weeding is too difficult for you, there are many herbicides available and it is still recommended that they be treated when small.
 
Q:  When can I plant my tomatoes?
A:  Tomatoes are a frost-tender plant, which means they are particularly susceptible to frosts.  Wait until your soil temperatures are warm (55-60°) to plant.  This date usually falls after Mother’s Day.  The recommended dates are May 20-June 10.
 
Q:  I’d like to try something unique in my garden this year.  Do you have any suggestions?
A:  There are many plants that are not as well known that will do well here with just a touch of extra care.  Some ideas could include Hardy Fig, Gooseberry, Hardy Kiwi, Jerusalem Artichoke, Mulberry, Pawpaw, Artichoke, Saskatoon, and Haskap Berry.  Saskatoons and Haskaps are of particular interest to many growers who feel left out of the blueberry growing experience.  The Saskatoon is a bush that will grow easily here in Utah with fruit that tastes like a blueberry.  Haskaps are very new to our area but have been grown successfully and taste like a cross between a current, blueberry, and raspberry. 
 
Timely Tips for March/April

·         Landscape trees and plants that suffer from iron chlorosis will benefit from iron or iron chelate applications in the spring.  When the tree is actively growing (spring flush) is the best time to apply.
·         Cut back any ornamental grasses or perennial plants that overwintered for optimal spring growth and reduction of plant pests and pathogens.
·         Be cautious about working your soil when conditions are too wet.  Rototilling over-wet soils can be messy, difficult, and will ultimately lead to compaction that will inhibit growth.
·         Get a jump on the growing season by starting your own seeds indoors or in a greenhouse or cold frame now.  Growing from seed allows you to choose from a wider range of plant varieties and it’s fun!  Don’t forget to involve the kids, grandkids and/or adult kids.

·         Not sure which kind of fertilizer to use or how much to add to your lawn and garden?  Now is a great time to get your soil tested for nutrients and pH.  Knowing your soils’ nutritional makeup can save you money and help protect the environment. 

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