Spring may be just around the corner but it is really a wide corner this year. If you are like me, it is hard to get fired up about gardening when I barely got the fish house off the lake in the nick of time. I think we can plan on a later start time this year but my manager reminds me that I am wrong a substantial portion of the time. One can always show improvement and that is worth a couple points at least.
Last time I checked, the apples have not formed buds yet and the snow is still 12 inches deep around the trunks so it is OK to do some pruning. On apples, look for crossing branches, water sprouts that go straight up, and branches growing in to the center of the tree. Most people do not prune apples enough. Be sure to use sharp tools and to cut just outside the raised branch collar.
The only trees you should not prune in the spring are those that bleed-maples, birch, boxelder, ironwood and their next of kin. Mid-April is getting to be too late for oaks in a normal year; wait until late summer. Beetles are attracted to fresh wood and spread wilt and other oak diseases. Wait until after bloom for shrubs grown for early spring flowering. Lilacs are a good example. Prune off the black gnarly growths on plums, then burn or bag them for disposal. If a whole tree is heavily infested, remove it and use the same disposal method. Black knot spreads rapidly, especially in spring rains when the spores are released.
It is still too early to see how the low shrubs have made through this crazy winter. Since the blueberries and lingonberries are still covered as I write this, we can only hope that the voles have not girdled them. If you find shrubs or low plants that have been girdled, they will not likely survive.
If you grow vegetables, take some time to plan where various plants will be this year. Yearly rotation is very important to prevent problems from both insects and soil borne diseases. If your potatoes have had wireworm damage, it may be necessary to avoid planting them and other root crops in that spot for a couple years. Rotation is also important if you plant in raised beds. Root vegetables are especially prone to soil borne pests. Wireworms and nematodes are examples of pests that affect root vegetables and tomatoes.
We have had good success with planting a cover crop on a corn patch or a potato bed and letting it rest for a year to rebuild soil humus. This may help with breaking the soil-borne insect problem too.
Don't start your tomatoes yet. If you grow onions from seed like we do, they should be in the pots now. Herb germination and growing to transplant stage takes a long time so early starting is OK. Think sage, lavender, borage, parsley or thyme. Rosemary is really slow; just buy the plants and save yourself the stress.
It has been a long time without dirt under my fingernails and if you are like me, I am itching to get out. Don't go at it too hard; these old muscles need a gradual training session to get in the mood. Have a great gardening spring!
Please seek information from the University of Minnesota Extension website - www.extension.umn.edu - or ask a Master Gardener for horticultural help. Our Facebook page may also be of help to you: www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.