It's time to get growing

By Mark and Ben Cullen

April 28, 2016 12:00 AM

As you contemplate your options in the yard, allow me to help you get organized.
It’s always more effective to approach a project with a plan.
This is one of my now famous fridge stories.
It’s time to get growing.
Read it, post it.
1. Veggies.
It might surprise you that this is an excellent time of year to start a vegetable garden.
Don’t wait until the May 24 weekend to get started.
By then you will have missed the best time to sow many of your favourite crops including: peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and garlic (though fall is better for garlic).
With cool April temperatures, this is a great time of year to prepare the soil of your garden by spreading 3- to 4-cm of Bio Max manure (or reliably high-quality compost).
You can turn this under the soil or plant right in it.
2. Start from seed indoors. Sow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, leeks, zinnias, asters and the like now. With five to six weeks until our last frost date, your timing will be perfect.
Come late May/early June, you will be ready to plant in warm soil and your transplants will take off.
You’ll save a small fortune too, as you won’t buy transplants at your garden retailer.
Use a quality seed starting mix (I use 10 parts Pro Mix with one part worm castings. Magic!) All seedlings need plenty of light to grow properly: sunlight or fluorescent lights work best.
3. Lawn.
My recipe for the best lawn on the block:
a. Rake lightly with a fan rake to remove winter debris.
b. Fertilize with a quality lawn food. One which contains slow release nitrogen and chelated iron. The nitrogen for a long lasting green colour and the iron for the deepest possible green.
c. Where weeds occur or thin spots exist, spread lawn soil 4-cm thick and rake smooth. Broadcast quality, Canadian grass seed at the rate of one kg per 100-sq meters. Rake this smooth (again), step on it with flat soled shoes and water until germination. Keep reasonably well watered until new roots are established (about four to six weeks). Look for the new Pro Mix Ultimate Condition grass seed, using mycoactive technology. It germinates in temperatures as low as 4 C.
d. When you are ready to cut your lawn, set your mower at six to eight cm high. Any lower allows weeds to establish and weakens your lawn. Use a mulching mower.
4. Plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and roses. All of the ‘winter hardy’ stock that you find at garden retailers this time of year can be planted in the garden, unless it has already flushed new, soft growth: an indication that it was forced in a greenhouse and is now frost-tender. All woody plants that are dormant at the time you purchase them are ready to plant this weekend.
5. Dig and divide. This is a great time of year to dig up perennials and divide them into sections to replant around your yard or give away to friends and neighbours. Hosta, monarda, daylilies: you name it.
6. Soil prep. Whatever you plant, be sure you prepare the soil well before you place your newly acquired plants in the ground. 90 per cent of your success depends on it. If you’re making a new garden in clay-based soil, be sure to remove existing soil 30- to 40-cm deep. Replace it with triple mix, mounded 10-cm higher than the current grade, as the new soil will settle.
If you are planting in an existing bed, add four- to five-cm of new, quality soil and either turn it under or let earthworms do it for you.
Note that quality soil is the key.
Don’t use black earth (basically peat-muck) or cheap manures which are often not manure at all.
Producers have been known to cut corners in production to keep costs low.
The results are never good.
Quality soil and compost is alive with nutrients, is safe (teeming with beneficial bacteria) and is high octane fuel for everything that grows.
Look for composted manure that is certified by the Composting Quality Alliance.
I spread four-cm of well-composted manure over my entire garden each spring.
Yes, I use more than 40 yards of the stuff.
I also use worm castings whenever I plant: one part to 10 parts soil.
Earthworm castings are nitrogen rich and teeming with a concentration of nutrients and mycorrhiza.
I can see the difference in plant performance when I use worm castings.
And finally, after you’ve returned your garden furniture to its summertime place, be sure to sit on it.
Enjoy the bird song (put out feeders and nesting boxes), the wind and the sunshine.
It may not have been the longest, coldest winter on record but you have none the less earned a break from the indoors.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden’ published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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