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Kansas weather is one of the greatest challenges gardeners face. We are fighting against high summer temperatures, long periods without rain, weeks without rain and snow days, followed by tornado warnings.
After the artificial temperatures in February, everyone enjoyed the days with 50, 60 or even 70 degrees in March extensively. While the warm temperatures were comfortable for spending time outside, make no mistake – this is just fake spring.
Fake Spring is an unofficial name for the warm temperature swing that seems to come in February, March, or even April each year. While the warm days can be comfortable, they are usually not an indication that warm weather will stay here, and often a cold snapshot will soon follow. It is important for gardeners to remember that the risk of frost for our area is to be expected in early to mid-May. While we are waiting for the “real” spring to begin, there are plenty of garden activities!
• Soil Test: Last week I shared the importance of a soil test to the health of your garden. Now is a good time to finish off the soil tests for your lawn or garden with several weeks to go so that your test can be processed and changes added before the gardening season begins.
More: Ariel Whitely-Noll: Common Gardening Problem or Lack of Soil?
• Compost: You can add food scraps to your compost heap year-round, although microorganisms can slow down in colder weather. Now is a good time to turn your piles over, add more waste, and set aside finished compost for use in the coming weeks.
• Plant cool and perennial vegetables: potatoes, rhubarb, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, peas, and cauliflower can be planted before warm season vegetables or most flowers. For details on care and timing of each treatment, see our vegetable page or your Kansas Garden Guide: www.shawnee.k-state.edu/lawn-garden/vegetables.html.
• Hardscape: If you have a garden path that needs to be relocated, or adding an existing garden to the stone, now is a good time to start working on these projects. Power-washing patios can also be easier without containers and garden furniture.
• Planning Your Garden: I talk a lot about planning your garden, but it can help so much! Pick plants for our pollinators, pick disease-resistant vegetables, and work on fences or row covers to keep living things out. Make your dream list of plants and take them with you on every trip to the gardening shops. Having my list of plants with me can avoid buying what I see and instead focus on buying the plants I have room for, with features that I want in my spaces.
• Water: Trees, shrubs, and our dormant perennials can benefit from a slow, deep drink at this time of year. Avoid watering during frosty periods, but during warm weather breaks all of your plants will appreciate a drink.
There are also garden activities that should be avoided at the beginning of the year.
• Crabgrass Preventer: Apply the Crabgrass Preventer between April 1st and April 15th or apply when the Eastern Redbud is nearing full bloom. If you are using a product with prodiamine (Barricade), use it two weeks earlier. Crab grass preventers must be watered in before they start working.
• Fertilize the lawn: The month of May is the time for the spring application of fertilizer for our lawn grasses. Fertilize these grasses only when a soil test shows it is necessary and as per your recommendations to avoid overfertilization, which can be unhealthy for the lawn and our ecosystem.
• Rake leaves and expose plants: A leaf mulch often brings our garden beds to rest in autumn. While these leaves look unkempt, they are actually full of life. Leaves house pollinator larvae and help protect our soils, plants and insects from freezing temperatures. Avoid raking leaves until late April through mid-May to help bees, butterflies, moths, and other beneficial insect larvae. The Xerces Society has a great campaign called “Leave the Leaves” where you can learn more about this useful practice.
While gardening now can be tempting, it is best for our plants and insect lovers to wait for the timing to be right. The real spring will be there before you know it.
Ariel Whitely-Noll is the horticultural agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.