Time to get your landscape ready for spring

February 20, 2013 

As I age, it takes me longer to get myself presentable in the morning. I used to get up, drag a brush over my teeth and hair (not the same brush -- two different ones) and then head out. Even though there is less of it, it now takes longer to get my hair in place. Then, the hair I lost from my head shows up elsewhere. I have to “water” my eyes, lotion my hands, take my meds and that is not even counting breakfast. I am afraid as I age that someday, by the time I am ready to go outside, it will be time to go back to bed again.

Landscapes need to be made presentable as well before they head off into spring. A little spring cleaning will prepare plants to look and perform better.

Deadhead and fertilize pansies and other winter blooming plants. Deadheading is removing the old flowers and seed heads. Pinch or cut them off -- do not pull them. Pulling can damage the rest of the plant. Deadheading encourages plants to produce more flowers over time.

Remove weeds and dead plants as well. As temperatures rise, a small weed can quickly take over the flower bed. If weeds are bad because of exposed soil, add or move some mulch to cover the soil and prevent further weeds.

Lightly fertilize pansies and other flowers with a liquid fertilizer. Carefully follow label directions to properly mix the fertilizer. Nitrogen is a major plant nutrient, and it comes in two forms: nitrate and ammonium. In the winter, pansies prefer a fertilizer with at least some nitrate nitrogen. Read the fertilizer label, and you will probably find a list of ingredients that tells whether the fertilizer has some nitrate nitrogen. Once the soil warms well (mid-March), you can use any nitrogen source you like.

Check pansies for purple spots on the leaves. This is cercospora leaf spot, which is caused by a fungus. It probably will not kill the pansies, but it can slow growth and blooming. You can spray with a fungicide to slow the spread of the disease, but the fungicide will not kill existing disease. The best thing is probably to remove extremely infected plants (almost all leaves infected). Water the plants only when the soil gets slightly dry, and water between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. This reduces water on the leaves, which can make the disease worse.

Mow the old, tattered leaves from your liriope. There are several ways to do this. You can set your mower on the highest setting and see if this will remove the leaves. Do not damage the crown of the plant (the base where all the leaves come together) when you mow. Be careful also not to damage the mower. Overworking a mower engine can shorten its useful life. Mowing the leaves off with a string trimmer or hedge sheers may be a better option.

Give your mower a tune-up. I do not claim to be a mower expert, but even I know a few things we can do. If you have a fancy mower or have not done this before, get someone to help you or let the mower repair folks do the work.

The first step to working on the mower is to make certain it cannot start while you are working on it. Removing the spark plug wire and wrapping electrical tape around it to protect it should prevent accidental mower starts. Replace the spark plug, and be sure to check the gap on the plug. Replace the air filter. This keeps dirt out of the engine and is very important. Replace or sharpen the mower blade. Dull blades leave a ragged cut on the lawn and tend to pull on the grass more, which stresses the lawn. Take your mower model name and number with you to buy parts because “one size fits all” does not apply in this case.

Rake up fallen leaves and straw from the lawn. If there is just a little and you have a mulching mower, you can probably mulch them in. The lawn will probably appreciate the extra organic matter once it decomposes.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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