Tackle these garden do's and don'ts


As I sat contemplating my gardening tasks for the week ahead, memories of Dicky Doo and the Don'ts popped into my mind. For those long in years but short on memory, Dicky Doo and the Don'ts were a briefly popular rock group in the late 1950s; two of their biggest hits were "Click Clack" and "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," (No wonder their popularity was brief!).

What do they have to do with gardening? Nothing, but they prompted me to compile this week's to doo er ... do and don'ts list:

n Do start composting yard and kitchen wastes (vegetation only). Compost will be your most important and cheapest soil amending material. Incorporate compost into all garden soils whether the soil is sandy or clay. Apply compost as a top-dressing on lawns to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed and to help breakdown accumulated thatch. All of the potting soil I use for houseplants is mostly compost. Compost is waste turned to gold. Who needs Midas when you have a compost pile or bin?

n Don't give weeds an opportunity to dominate the lawn. Set the mowing high (3 inches), leave grass clippings on the lawn, provide some fertilizer and relieve soil compaction by core aerating. These lawn care practices will promote vigorous growth of grass and keep weeds out of the lawn. Vigorously growing turfgrass will out-compete weeds, especially dandelions.

n Do wear safety glasses when using a string trimmer, pruner, chain saw or lawn mower. There's lots of debris that gets tossed around when using outdoor power equipment. Also, be aware of others, especially children, who may be within range of stone or other debris that may be flung from a lawn mower.

n Do continue harvesting rhubarb until the new leafstalks start getting thinner, then stop. A rhubarb plant that is at least 3 years old should continue to produce thick stalks through the end of May or longer. Remember, always pull rather than cut the leafstalks when harvesting. Cutting a leafstalk leaves behind a piece of stalk with an exposed surface through which decay fungi may get into the plant.

n Do harvest some outer leaves from spinach, leaf lettuce, radicchio, mustard greens, escarole, common endive, arugula and other leafy greens when the plants have about four leaves. Of course the plants are still quite small. That's OK. You're not sacrificing entire plants, just a few leaves. Leave the crowns of greens intact and they'll continue to produce. Folks with an educated palate prefer the flavor of small, tender greens to larger, older leaves. My palate flunked first grade, but I still enjoy young leafy greens.

n Do make the first sowing of sweet corn and green beans this week if the forecast calls for mild temperatures.

n Don't accept a gift plant from a friend's planting of red and black raspberries. Raspberries are the most virus prone fruit crop in the United States. Bringing in plants from an old planting almost certainly means bringing in viruses. Do start new plantings of red and black raspberries from newly purchased plants that are labeled as "certified disease-free, virus-indexed stock."

n Do research the ultimate height of flowering plants you've purchased prior to setting them out in flower beds and borders. Low growing plants will be lost and unappreciated when stuck behind taller growing species. It can get lonely back there.

n Don't bemoan the loss of plants from winter injury, i.e. cold temperature damage or desiccation. From my simple-minded perspective, it just means that the plants were either not hardy enough for my garden or were planted in the wrong place. Mother Nature has an uncompromising way of pointing out my gardening mistakes.

n Do listen to "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu." The lyrics are easy to remember.


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