February 22, 2008

As winter draws to a close, it is time for vegetable and flower gardeners to start preparing for the spring planting season, said Rick Durham, associate extension professor for consumer horticulture at the University of Kentucky.

The vegetable growing season is fast approaching for some areas of the state. Gardeners can plant peas as early as late February in western Kentucky, and they can plant cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, spinach greens and onions as early as mid March, he said. Central Kentucky gardeners can start planting peas in early March and eastern-area gardeners can begin planting in mid March.

One of the things vegetable gardeners can do during the late winter is to have their soil tested. If the soil test indicates a nutrient is lacking, gardeners can add it to the soil. This is especially true if a pH change is needed. Nitrogen, which is the most commonly needed nutrient, is an exception to late winter nutrient application. It should be added just before or during planting, he said.

Late winter and early spring is also the time to incorporate organic matter into gardens, which enhances the soil’s productivity, Durham said. Organic matter can be obtained from either commercially available sources that include composted manure and other composted products, such as leaf mold, or compost produced by gardeners since the last growing season. Gardeners should apply compost up to two to three inches deep in their garden and then work it into the soil until it reaches 10 to 12 inches in depth.

Gardeners should also remove debris from their beds to prevent potential pest problems in the spring.

“Debris can serve as an overwintering place for pests, both insects and diseases,” Durham said. “Insects and their eggs can be hidden in the debris, and the diseases can produce spores once they begin growing again, which can infest gardens.”

Those with flower gardens may already be seeing signs of spring as bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, start to send up shoots. Many other garden perennials will begin showing signs of growth soon.

“As the plants begin to grow, if you mulched a lot in the fall, pull the mulch back around the crown of the perennial,” Durham said. “If you didn’t mulch in the fall, you should mulch this spring.”

Unlike perennials, most annuals shouldn’t be planted until after Derby Day, or the first of May, to prevent damage from a late spring freeze.

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