1. Lawn fertilization is a high priority for homeowners in the mountain and piedmont regions. Applying nitrogen to cool season lawns in late winter/early spring is an important step in waking up tall fescue-bluegrass lawns. Slow-release fertilizers are preferred because of their residual greening effect.
2. Crabgrass is the bane of gardening. This weed germinates in spring and flourishes until frost kills it. While mechanical methods of weed control and hand weeding are typically used, pre-emergent herbicides can prevent crabgrass germination. It is important to follow the label instructions for safe use and application rates; granular products are easiest to apply. Time the application when forsythia blooms but before mid-April.
3. In coastal areas, dethatch, weed, and feed lawns as needed. Dormant warm-season lawns can be spot-sprayed with glyphosate herbicides to eliminate perennial weeds. Do not spray lawns beginning to green except with broadleaf weed killers.
4. Cut back ornamental grasses as new shoots become visible at their bases. Trim and groom liriope beds and other groundcover plantings. Remove winter weeds and mulch clean beds.
5. Prune spring-flowering shrubs soon after they bloom. Continue pruning evergreen hedges and deciduous shrubs that flower during the summer, such as roses and pee gee hydrangeas.
6. Finish pruning fruit trees, blueberry bushes, and brambles before new growth emerges. Construct trellises to support grape vines as needed. Velcro tape and nylon cable ties are particularly useful in accomplishing this. New posts should be pressure treated and set in gravel or concrete.
7. Begin planning landscaping projects for the spring months. Upgrade or construct sidewalks and retaining walls while the days are comfortable for outdoor work. Consult a landscape contractor or landscape architect for design ideas and the latest hardscaping products on the market.
8. Plant trees during cool spring months so they have time to establish their roots before hot weather. Always loosen the root-ball of container-grown plants to encourage new root development. Prepare a wide planting hole for single specimens and a bed for multiple plants. Add a few inches of topsoil to a bed to help ensure proper drainage and better plant establishment.
9. Coastal gardeners can plant garden peas, onions, leeks, potatoes, cabbage and similar cool crops. The soil in the mountain region however may still be too cold for sowing vegetable seeds.
10. Start seedlings for the garden in a sunny window equipped with a bank of florescent lights. Turn on lights for 16 hours each day, with seed-starting flats positioned 6 to 10 inches under them. Monitor soil moisture daily. Allow six weeks or more for plants to develop before moving them outdoors to harden off.
11. The N.C. Division of Forestry offers bare root tree seedlings in environmental packages for reforestation and conservation purposes. A list of available species is available on its website. The trees are affordable and can be delivered to county offices for pickup. Also, garden plants are sold during the spring through the Cooperative Extension Agency to benefit 4-H and Master Gardener programs.
12. Quality soil is essential for growing potted plants. There are great commercial mixes on the market, especially for seed and container growing. However, many gardeners make their own soil mixes to transplant woody plants and construct raised beds. Though recipes vary, most mixes contain equal parts sand, topsoil and screened leaf compost (or sphagnum peat moss). Professionals often use pine bark soil conditioner and sand at a 90:10 ratio. Add limestone to soil mixes and possibly a slow-release fertilizer.
13. If you’re creating a new flowerbed, use a garden hose to lay out the perimeter of the bed and shape in curvilinear form. Paint along the hose line with a utility sprayer. Use plastic surveyor’s tape and wooden stakes for rectangular beds. Double-digging may be necessary with compacted soil or when planting roses. Otherwise, remove the sod and rototill the soil to aerate the bed. Test the soil and add nutrients where deficient. Rake compost or commercial bagged manure into the top few inches of the bed once tilling is complete.
14. Using seeds from previous seasons is acceptable for some plants. Seeds stored in airtight containers in a cool room often germinate when planted. To check their viability before sowing, place five to 10 seeds on a moist paper towel, roll it up, and slide the towel into plastic sandwich bag. After a week in a warm location, the seeds should sprout if they are suitable for use.
15. Some common landscape trees will “bleed,” or sap excessively, when pruned in early spring. Among them are river birch, dogwood, maple, and crabapple trees. But don’t worry, the sap is primarily water. To prevent excessive sapping, prune your trees in late summer.
16. Prune rose bushes in March. After cold weather passes, roses benefit from an annual pruning to remove weak and diseased canes. While Knock Out™ roses require less severe pruning, they occasionally need thinning cuts to allow light into the shrub’s interior. When needed, lop them back to keep their height down.
17. For a highly visible spot in your garden, plant a paper bush. Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) offers the look and fragrance of daphne but is hardier. Or, try ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ (Hydrangea arborescens) the first pink mountain hydrangea. North Carolina State University plant breeder, Dr. Tom G. Ranney created the plant. All proceeds from sales of the pink mountain hydrangea benefit breast cancer research.
For more than 30 years, Toby Bost has been a resource to North Carolina gardeners and growers as an agricultural extension agent, a trainer for master gardeners, and an author. His books include The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina, North Carolina Gardener’s Guide, and The Carolina Gardener’s Guide. He can be reached through Our State magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org