What do you do for your Spring cleanup? Feed? Preen? Mulch?

gayled(6)March 22, 2014

How do you wake up your garden and when do you do it? My spring clean up usually includes some sort of feeding for my plants; hollytone, plantone, rosetone. I have also used preen and preen and green, just not sure if it works. Last year I mulched with Sweet Peet which I'm hoping will result in vastly improved soil. I've noticed a good deal of bronzing on some of my box. I'm looking for a magic bullet.

It's was a brutal winter - I think everything could use an extra boost to enhance performance. Compost maybe?
Anyone have any great suggestions to enhance performance and mitigate winter damage?

Btw - I'm a longtime lurker, sometimes poster and avid gardener. Master Gardner, as well. Thanks!

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I use the 'tones' on some shrubs. Have never used preen or any other kind of weed suppressor, aside from bark mulch. Sweet Peet is a product of Scott's that I'm not a fan of. I don't use anything on my lawn. It has clover growing in it and does well without it.

Building soil fertility is a process that to me is better done using the raw materials that are natural rather than by buying a product at the garden center. Organic Compost adds to soil fertility.

Mitigating winter damageâ¦.continue to improve soil fertility, keep your plants well watered in dry spells, prune off any damaged branches, stems, etc., mulch, maybe use some fish emulsion/seaweed liquid fertilizer as a boost.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 12:03PM
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Gayled - Welcome out from lurkdom! It's wonderful to see so many new voices on various threads recently.

I also tend to use compost and organic mulches like wood shavings or shredded leaves, only feeding my pots occasionally. In lawn areas with problem annual weedy grasses I rarely use corn gluten. I'm with PM2 in terms of building the soil, pruning away damage, and keeping adequately watered to help damaged plants recover. I always figure that a damaged plant doesn't need a dose of fertilizer to add to its stress as long as the soil has adequate fertility.

This post was edited by nhbabs on Sat, Mar 22, 14 at 15:23

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 3:12PM
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Hi gayled, and welcome to the forum!

My spring ritual is pretty simple, and only a little frantic: I just try to get the sodden leaves out of the beds, before they smother the plants, and cut back the perennials and sub-shrubs that were left standing over the winter. I suppose some fertilizer might boost certain plants, but ... I'm a fan of benign neglect, and always worry about treatments that do more harm than good.

Preen is a pre-emergent herbicide, so it would prevent any self-sown plants from growing. Since I rely on biennials and some hardy annuals to give my gardens a slightly wild look, that wouldn't work at all for me.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 6:35PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Preen does work, but I think just using a fresh amount of mulch is more effective. The problem with pre-emergents is that they create a barrier through which weeds aren't able to grow. But if that barrier is disturbed or if the weed has already germinated it won't work. So if you plant in that area or pull weeds out that have already started, you've disturbed the barrier.

Sweet Peat and other small particle mulches like it are interesting and useful in terms of improving soil, but they're not as good at weed suppression as "chunkier" mulches like wood chips, or bark or shredded leaves. Chunkier mulches also leave air spaces for beneficial insects like ground beetles (they eat slugs, so I love em).

As for ferts, what I use depends on my soil testing. The Espoma stuff is great, but expensive. Soy Bean Meal, at 7-1-1, is $18 for 50 lbs and I use that in areas that just need Nitrogen. In my Hosta beds I like to use Milorganite (5-2-0) because it tends to repel bunnies in addition to providing nutrients. Milorganite is $13 for 36 lbs and it's organic as well.

As for boxwood, I hope yours are fine, but be on the lookout for Boxwood Blight in CT and neighboring states. Link below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fact Sheet on Boxwood Blight

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 7:10PM
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Thanks for the responses. Always interesting to see what amendments, if any, everyone uses. We built our house 3 years ago so my gardens are very young and root systems not yet established.

Steve - haven't tried Milorganite but have heard great things especially for rhodies and azaleas. Cost aside, do you consider it more effective than hollytone? Oh...and boxwood blight. I live in constant fear, I'm keeping my eyes open. I also planted some hemlocks so my fear is compounded looking for wooly adelgid! Ah....gardening is so relaxing.

PrairieMoon2 - yes I will working for years and years to improve my soil. I'll retest in a few weeks to see what's going on. Oh...not sure where you got your info, but Sweet Peet is 100% organic and an outstanding soil conditioner. Independently owned; Scotts would never buy it because it has no chemicals LOL. Fish emulsion - now there's a thought. Haven't used it - how is it applied?

I just can't wait to get my nails dirty.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 7:23AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Gayled, I had not heard of Sweet Peet until you mentioned it and I just did a quick google before my post. The first link that came up said 'Sweet Peet from Scott's' and I stopped reading at that point. I just went back to the link and it's 'Scott's Landscaping and Nursery' [g]. I did understand it was organic, it was the Scotts Company that produces so many lawn products that I'm not a fan of.

As Babs pointed out, if your plant has actual damage, I'm not sure adding any kind of fertilizer is helpful, until the plant has recovered. Personally, I've never tried that. What is recommended for a damaged plant is usually very specific to the plant and the situation.

Fish emulsion/seaweed is water based and can be used at the recommended rate or can be reduced by half in many situations where less is needed. It does provide a lot of micronutrients and I've never had anything but positive results from using it. I will put some into a spray bottle and spray foliage and use a watering can around the base.

I'm also using organic greensand and alfalfa meal this year and increasing my use of cover crops.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 8:08AM
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Welcome, gayled!

How do you wake up your garden and when do you do it?

How: rake & remove fallen leaves, branches, dead flower stems/foliage & other debris

When: late March/early-mid-April (or as soon as the snow melts)

I don't feed my perennials/shrubs because they don't need it. My garden soil is healthy because my parents practiced organic gardening for 50 years before I moved here. The garden beds I designed & planted are all mulched with shredded bark spread over corrugated cardboard to suppress weeds.

Preen is a petroleum-based pre-emergent that my brother introduced me to many years ago. One whiff convinced me never to use it in my garden. I do use seaweed extract & fish emulsion, occasionally & sparingly, but have learned over the years even those are rarely necessary. Established, healthy shrubs & perennials in healthy soil pretty much take care of themselves.

Crushed eggshells are quite effective when sprinkled around emerging hostas to discourage slugs/snails.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 9:43AM
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mjc_molie(z6 CT)

Glad you've joined us, gayled, welcome to the NE forum!

My DH and I are retired. We work together in the gardens...
our spring techniques are pretty simple.

1. Clean up dead leaves and foliage and weed underneath plants... but not as early as we'd like this year. Probably not until April .... if we get more snow this week.

2. One of our earliest tasks every spring.... amend the soil. I think that's the best thing you can do for the gardens.

We get free compost from our town.... dig it and take it. We've done this for the last eight years and it's really helped improve the gardens. While it's not exactly "organic" because the compost is made from garden waste that people bag and the city picks up, "free" makes it worthwhile.

3. We like to use bark mulch and I use cocoa mulch in a few special areas, but this has gotten expensive as our gardens have grown. We've found that the compost works like mulch by breaking down over the season. So we mulch every other year.

3. Fertilize? No, not even our roses. I think good soil is better than chemical applications. I learned about composting from my mother who was a wonderful gardener. Mom collected coffee grounds in one container (for her Mt. Laurels and rhododendrons) and egg shells & other wastes that she'd spread around her flower beds. Over 40 years of this gave her a yard with deep, dark soil and lots of worms.

4. My DH put in an irrigation system several years ago and he checks this early in the spring. We have a long yard with gardens down one side and around a garden shed. The days of dragging the hose around are gone for us.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 3:41PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I garden in southeast MA by the coast and most winters we have little snow cover - this year is an exception. Because of the bare ground and fierce winds I want thick mulch-type cover over the winter so I spread compost in the fall and I don't cut down perennial stalks or ornamental grasses until I'm sure that spring will really come. I also leave the ornamental grasses in place for wind protection for the birds (and shelter from hawks).

And then spring finally comes and I need to uncover bulbs and perennial crowns, but I have to remember that summer is usually very dry and I'll need mulch then too.

What I end up doing in the spring is carefully removing the top few inches of cover so sprouts can get through, and I cut down dead stalks. I'll either move this debris into the compost pile or I'll chop the stalks and leave them in place to serve as summer mulch.

Needless to say my garden is not very tidy, but the plants are healthy, the soil is getting better each year, and I don't have to water very often in the summer.

I don't fertilize most plants (except for the fall compost) but I do give the roses Rose-tone regularly or Plant-tone if I can't easily get Rose-tone - I like to let my roses grow big and they seem to like it.


edit note: I make an exception for bearded irises and peonies - they get mulched over the winter but I'll go around in the spring and pull the mulch away from the rhizomes/roots so they'll bloom.

This post was edited by claire on Tue, Mar 25, 14 at 20:14

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 4:25PM
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