Spring is coming, but maybe not around corner

As I write this article the worst winter storm of the season is bearing down on us. It is hard to believe that in the last couple of weeks we have had a few days of warm very spring like weather. Spring is coming but it probably is not just around the corner. Winter weather is often very changeable and it is normal to have a few warm days before actual spring arrives and with it the gardening season. After being house bound for several months it is natural to want to get outside. Gardeners will always be optimists and it is in their nature to think this is it, here we go. There are many things the gardener can do right now and some things that need to be left for another day.

I like to recommend gardening classes. These are usually held about this time of year. We can all learn a new trick or two and it is fun to talk to the other gardeners.

Some local classes to consider are the annual Penn State Master Gardener’s Plant sale at Tractor Supply in North Warren, April 3, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be selling herbs, perennials, and vegetables. A Garden Flea Market is planned as well as the opportunity to speak with Penn State Master Gardeners who will gladly answer your gardening questions.

Saturday April 22, from 4 to 6 p.m., is a hands-on Grafting Class of apple or pear trees. The class will be held at the Penn State Extension Office at the 911 complex in Youngsville. The class is limited to 15 people. Reserve your place with the $14 registration fee sent to 100 Dillon Drive, Suite 101, Youngsville, Pa. 16271 by March 31. If you have questions call the extension office at 563-9388 or email WarrenExt@psu.edu.

A new Penn State Master Gardener class has been scheduled for October 5, 2017, to February 2, 2018, from 6 to 8:45. Classes will not meet the week of Christmas or Thanksgiving. Call the extension office for information at 563-9388 or WarrenExt@psu.edu.

One garden rule you can count on is do not step on your garden soil. When the garden is wet, footsteps can compact the delicate soil. Good soil is characterized by many little channels through which water flows to our plants carrying moisture and nutrients. If you walk on wet garden soil or even dry garden soil you compact these channels and block nutrients and moisture. The same rule applies to our lawns that have not drained properly. No matter how nice the day, if your lawn is still wet do not walk on it.

The second rule to follow is do not remove the mulches. Weather is very changeable in March and April. We can have a few days in the 50s and then two weeks of cold temperatures accompanied by snow. Mulch does not keep your plants warm. Mulch keeps the soil at a steady temperature preventing your plants from breaking through the soil too early. Leave your mulch right where it is.

So what can you do? If your lawn has drained well then go ahead and pick up every stick, limb and branch that liters your lawn. You may have more limbs come down with late winter storms but the more you can remove now the nicer your lawn will look and the few branches that do come down later can be removed quickly. We always have oak leaves and apple tree leaves that have fallen during the winter after our leaves have been composted. A dry lawn will be able to take the leaf rake without damage. Decomposing leaves will stain your deck and porch. Get them swept up and composted as soon as you can.

Now is the time to prune trees and shrubs while they are still dormant. Rules on pruning are too numerous to go into in this short article. Buy a book or ask for experienced help. Do not prune bushes like lilacs, azaleas and rhododendron. Pruning will remove the buds that were set last summer that will become your flowers. Prune these and other spring bloomers after they bloom. If you see a broken branch remove it now.

On those cold, rainy or even snowy days tidy up your potting shed or your potting bench. The tools that you carefully cleaned last fall now may need to be sharpened. Rust can be removed with steel wool and a little household oil. We all have tools we never use, seeds that are no longer viable, and garden gloves that have seen better days. This list can go on and on. I like to take everything off my potting bench, and run the shop vacuum. With a clean space I put back just those things I really use. Then I can separate landfill items from those tools that need to be passed on to a gardener who needs them.

Make a list of garden supplies. These might include water soluble fertilizer, bulb fertilizer, and new, clean garden gloves. I like to start spring with about 3 bags on compost, vermiculite or pearlite and 2 bales of peat moss. You don’t need warm weather or even dry weather to get these tasks accomplished and it makes us feel like we are gardening even though we aren’t working in the soil.

I like to spend my March and April days reading about gardening. There are always new ideas and gardening techniques. Just because we have always “done it that way” doesn’t mean there isn’t a better or easier way to garden. I have many gardening books and time re reading these books is time well spent. I always read something I have forgotten or something I have not noticed.

An experienced gardener will always say one of the biggest lessons of gardening is patience. Spring is on the way. Gardening season will arrive about the time it always does. If you get desperate, you can always drag the lawn furniture into the garage and get the painting done.