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Jennifer Schutter, MU Extension horticulture specialist, had a good article on preparing the garden for spring. Here are some highlights.

"As the days get longer and the weather starts to warm, gardeners are anxious to get back into the garden. One of the first things to do in the garden and landscape is winter cleanup. Rake the lawn to get rid of dead growth, leaves, twigs and other debris. This lets light and air into the soil, encouraging the grass to grow. Rake out and cleanup garden beds to remove leaves and dead plants. Doing so will help dry out and warm the soil faster allowing for early plantings of flowers like pansies, snapdragons, or vegetables like lettuce and spinach.

Wraps need to be taken off trees that were wrapped in the fall for winter protection. Leaving it on can damage the trunk by allowing insects and rain to get inside. As weeds start to grow in the garden, remove while roots are still shallow and easy to pull. Chickweed and henbit are two of the earliest weeds to emerge, often in late February and early March. Pre-emergent weed control like PREENT, containing the active ingredient trifluralin, can be broadcast over garden beds to prevent germination of these early weeds. Do not plant seeds in these beds for at least six weeks, as trifluralin kills all seeds.

Prune fruit trees and small fruit plants like grapevines, blueberry shrubs and brambles now. Pruning should be completed in northeast Missouri by late March. Apply dormant oil spray to fruit trees, magnolias, crabapples and shrubs such as euonymus to control scale insects and other overwintering pests. Apply dormant oil when the buds are swelling but the leaves haven't opened yet. Apply when temperatures are between 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Apply a fungicide containing chlorothalonil to peach trees before bud swell to prevent peach leaf curl.

Do not be in a hurry to remove winter mulch or cut back perennials until temperatures are reliably warm. Roses uncovered too early can be damaged from the cold. Strawberry plants may experience a crop loss due to freezing temperatures. Typically, early to mid-April is when these plants should be uncovered. If freeze and thaw cycles over the winter heaved plants out of the ground, replant them when the ground thaws and the temperatures stay above freezing.

Resist the urge to start working the garden or flower beds too early. Soil structure can be damaged from working wet soil. When a handful of soil is picked up, it should fall apart, not stick together like glue. When gardens beds have dried out, start working them by adding compost like decomposed manure, in preparation for planting. In late March, seeds of cool-season vegetable crops like lettuce, spinach, collards, cilantro, kale, peas and radish can be planted. Because March can be wet, raised beds and containers work well for these early crops that prefer cool weather and grow best when temperatures are below 70 degrees. Most radishes will be ready for harvest in 30-35 days. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts should also be planted at this time. Broccoli and cauliflower planted too late in the spring will not produce. If planted in late March or the first week of April, expect to harvest a nice head of broccoli and cauliflower by late May or the first week of June.

Now is a good time to sharpen mower blades and give the mower and tiller a tune-up. Start preparing other tools for planting. Tighten loose screws, remove rust and apply oil to wood handles for protection from the elements. Taking proper care of tools will make them last a long time."

Happy gardening!

Peter Sutter is a life-long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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