July 15, 2024
How to prepare your lawn and garden for spring

It’s the ugly time of year in the Capital Region. The calendar says spring, but it doesn’t feel like it, and even though there’s always a few 60-degree days this time of year, there’s also still a risk for a snowstorm. In other words, it’s not quite time to clean up the yard and put plants in the garden, but there are other ways you can prepare for the growing season. 

For Rochelle Thomas, this is the time of year when she shares her home with plants — a lot of plants. Thomas owns Daisies and Dahlias, a garden design and plant care company in Saratoga Springs. Thomas and her crew create and tend storefront planters and garden installations, in addition to other work. Many potted plants that thrive all summer long need a place to spend the winter, and that place is often Thomas’s home, where they’ll stay until she can be sure a they won’t freeze overnight. Plus, Thomas is growing seedlings: tomatoes, squashes, herbs, beans, melons, cucumbers, zinnia, cosmos, dahlias and more. The fledgling plants spend a few hours in the sun each day acclimating to the outdoors. Thomas won’t put them in the ground until the end of May. 

“When I first started growing plants, I looked at a seed packet and I was skeptical it would make a plant. I put so many seeds in the ground,” Thomas said. “People over-think it. Plant the seed, keep the soil moist and see what happens. It’s all trial and error.”

Thomas recommends refraining from raking the lawn until the temperatures have been in the 50s during the day for at least five days. The reason? Butterflies, bees and other beneficial pollinators overwinter in leaf litter and last summer’s decay. Give them a couple more weeks before you disturb their habitat. One caveat: you don’t want a thick layer of dead vegetation in the garden to suffocate those tender shoots emerging from the ground. If you put mulch or a layer of leaves around rose bushes or peonies or other perennials, Thomas recommends carefully moving material away from new plants to avoid mold forming. 

Once the ground is workable (meaning, you can easily dig without straining to push through frozen dirt) Thomas said to go ahead and plant cold-loving pansies, kale, spinach, carrots and beets. They are more likely to survived the vagaries of the upstate spring than other common garden mates.

In Ballston Lake, interior designer Julie Maleski Putzel is going into her second full growing season after moving to a new place in 2020. Maleski Putzel faced multiple challenges when she set out to become a flower grower. Her goal was to grow a lush cut-flower garden, and she planted 2,000 bulbs in the fall of 2020 along with peony and rose bushes on her 16-acre property.

In addition to learning how to handle soil with a lot of clay content, Maleski Putzel also had to guess as to what previous owners of her property planted she took over. Two hard lessons: deer like tulips; and without hardening off (more on that later), many seedlings will die after they’re transferred from indoor living to the outdoors. 

This month, Maleski Putzel has trays planted with seeds for snapdragons, sweet peas, dill, Queen Anne’s lace, corn cockle, larkspur, poppies, bachelor button and pin cushion. She keeps them in her garage and pulls them out for sun each day for a couple hours for what’s called “hardening off.” Plants need to have a waxy coating to protect them from the elements, but seeds grown inside take much longer to develop the layer because they emerge in a softer environment. Putting the plants outside for a few hours each day this time of year helps the seedlings to develop the coating in preparation for further growth later in the year. 

Don’t fertilize yet: If the ground is frozen, the mixture won’t help anyway and it’s illegal in New York to apply fertilizer before April 1. See other advice from the state Department of Environmental Conservation on their website.

Divide to thrive: Perennials like irises, day lilies, sedum and ornamental grasses expand every year. When the plant gets to be two feet across, it’s time to divide it. Don’t worry about a surgical maneuver. Use a sharp-edged shovel and some strength to split the plant once or twice through the greenery and the roots, then replant the new portions elsewhere. 

Feed the plant, repel the critters: To keep deer away from her tulips, Julie Maleski Putzel scatters Repels-All granules. It won’t hurt animals, but it will irritate them enough they will look for food elsewhere. She also applies Neptune’s Harvest – diluted fish emulsion – once a month, which both fertilizes and keeps deer away.

Try something new: Gardener Rochelle Thomas recommends sedum autumn joy. Low-maintenance and hardy, it looks like a big succulent, then produces a rusty-pink bloom in the fall. Bees love it.