Spring's Around The Corner -- Get Ready To Garden

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Check the calendar, the first day of spring is a little more than a month away. Are you ready for it?

If this is the year you're going to turn your yard into a thing of beauty, here are a few tips.

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If you are dreaming of a garden like that of Dean and Vee Gooding, now is the time to start planning and preparing for it.

With spring fast approaching, it's time to decide what you would like to do with your garden. Seed catalogs conjure visions of beautiful bouquets around your home, their sweet fragrances permeating every room. Your appetite is whetted for meals prepared with homegrown vegetables. But how can you best prepare that plot of soil behind, alongside or in front of your house to help make your garden grow?

Remove Debris

If you didn't remove all the debris from your garden last fall, you must clear out the old leaves and stems before you plant. This is the single-most effective pest control measure you can take for your garden. Insect eggs or disease spores from last year's growth can infect your new crop.

Loosen Soil

After you have removed the debris, use a shovel to break up clods of dirt and loosen the soil to the rooting depth of your plants. You want to create a uniform, porous seedbed for seeds and seedlings. Any plants that root below 5 or 6 inches are capable of penetrating most soils.

If your garden plot has packed clay or sandy soil, till in organic matter such as peat, composted leaves or lawn clippings and work them into the soil as deeply as you can. This will form a soil structure that allows roots to breathe and grow. It will also help retain vital moisture and nutrients.

Do not use lawn clippings for this if you have treated your lawn with a weed killer or insecticide. Residual chemicals on the clippings can damage garden plants or make vegetables unsafe to eat. After all, leaving clippings on the lawn recycles nutrients back to grass plants, improving your lawn's health and beauty.

Fertilizing

Melinda Myers, host of "Great Lakes Gardener" public television show and author of several gardening books, advises gardeners to always use a fertilizer that is gentle on both plants and the environment.

"Use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer that provides plants with small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time," notes Myers. "This slow release nitrogen goes directly to the plants and not into groundwater. It's friendly to the environment and allows plants to use all the nutrients you apply. It also promotes even growth, discouraging insect and disease problems."

Slow-release nitrogen fertilizer reduces the risk of damage to plants and the environment in the event it's misapplied or overused. An organic-based nitrogen fertilizer, such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, is ideal for helping build soil while fertilizing. Information on fertilizing various types of garden plants can be found at www.milorganite.com.

When to Fertilize

In general, fertilize when you first seed or transplant. This encourages early root and plant growth. Fertilize again when plants begin to flower or display leaf growth that will mature for harvest. For full-season plants, fertilize a third time in mid- to late summer. Potatoes, tomatoes and similar plants especially benefit from this third application.

If you have any doubts as to what kind of fertilizer to use or how much to apply, or if you would like your soil analyzed for nutrients, contact the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Program, (928) 474-4160.

Seeding and Planting

It's exciting to watch plants grow from a tiny seed. If you plant seeds, follow the package directions. Directions will vary for each kind of seed you plant. Be careful! The most common planting mistake is planting too deep. This results in poor germination. Water gently, keeping seeds moist until they germinate. Follow specific watering instructions for each kind of seed you plant.

Plant seedlings as deep as they were in their holder. You can see the soil level on the stem. Keep their roots vertical by making sure your hole is deep enough. If your soil is dry, fill the hole half full of water before you place the seedling in it. Firmly pack soil around it. Gently water over the top of planted seedlings. Keep them moist for a week or so, depending on your local weather conditions.

Those Darned Pests

Insects, weeds and disease can present problems to a healthy garden. Mike Archer, master gardener and research coordinator for Milorganite, recommends using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control. IPM is a low-cost, low-impact means for controlling harmful pests.

IPM encourages the use of natural pesticides as a friendly method of pest control. "Using commercial pesticides should be limited to times when the damage is beyond using natural methods," says Archer.

"In many cases, treating a garden with pesticides kills off beneficial insect species that keep problem species under control," says Archer. "Learn to identify these helpful insects, so you don't kill off friends of your garden."

Other methods of environmentally sound pest control include hoeing weeds; staking tall plants so fruit does not touch the ground; providing garden ventilation to minimize incidence of disease; and trickling water on the soil, not on foliage, when watering on sunny days so leaves don't scald.

Have Fun

There's no doubt about it; gardening can be hard work. But if you follow these simple tips, your garden will prosper and your experience will be a positive one.

For more information on successful gardening, visit www.milorganite.com.

Picking the perfect plants

While you're confined to thumbing through flower and seed catalogs, those who grow the flowers, plants and shrubs are stoking a fever of their own, creating a whole slew of new green goods.

This spring the emphasis in gardening will be on ease, convenience and results. New to the market are exotic annuals, patio ready plants, lightweight containers, and of course, dependable and disease-resistant roses.

Patio Ready Plants

Create an instant "patio ready" solution with color and long lasting appeal with the Raymond Evison Patio Clematis Collection. Each plant comes in a decorative pot ready for your patio, deck, balcony or front porch.

Compact and showy, these container clematis are covered up and down the entire vine with richly hued flowers, creating a striking tower of color from spring through fall. Once enjoyed for the summer, they can be planted in the garden in fall and will spread like a ground cover.

New Stars in the Garden

New roses include Elle, a hybrid tea AARS winner that produces long-stemmed shell pink roses with deep yellow undertones and White Drift, the first compact rose ideal for hanging baskets. With pure white blooms and a strong spicy fragrance, this rose is sure to turn your neighbor's heads.

Specialty Annuals

New annuals from Simply Beautiful can easily be integrated into your garden to complement perennials and shrubs. Try Simply Beautiful Kong coleus this year with its gigantic multi-colored leaves for the shade or Simply Beautiful Fusion Infrared exotic impatiens for containers.

And don't forget your Wave Petunias! Easy Wave Red, the first true red in the Ride The Wave petunia family, is phenomenal in garden beds where they can spread up to a whopping 3 feet. Try any of the Wave petunias for instant impact without any fuss.

Vincas return in a big way this season with Simply Beautiful's Titan series, sporting gigantic flowers in seven colors including Polka Dot, Punch and Lavender Blue Halo.

Contain Yourself

So you don't have the time or space for a full-size garden? You can still get the flavor and feel of getting your hands dirty, and create elegant accents inside and outside your home with one or more of the latest designer containers from Campania International.

"This new line of container and styles reflects our desire to match specific styles with different parts of the home both inside and out," says Peter C. Cilio, vice president of product development. "The different types of materials easily fit together to form an overall, different look."

New products on the market include COTTO-Lite and LEAD-Lite Containers, which are lightweight alternatives to lead or terra cotta containers. Made from clay and other naturally found materials, these planters are durable and resistant to frost and ultra violet rays.

What to put in containers?

Now there is a creative solution that truly takes the mystery out of container gardening.

Inspired by the great artists of our time with the simplicity of a child's paint-by-number set, Plant by Number Container Combinations by Simply Beautiful will free the inner garden artist in everyone."

Whether your garden space is tropical, prairie or somewhere in between, the Plant by Number Website at www.PlantByNumber.com has a tried and tested combination.

Each "painting" is accompanied by a simple diagram showing plant placement and container size; designs are available for sun or shade, even partial shade. Guesswork is eliminated with clear details for each design, along with "Garden Painter's Pointers" offering specific instructions for plant care.

Because each combination features easy-care, top-performing Simply Beautiful plant varieties, gardeners can be confident that their "works of art" will provide enjoyment and lasting color all season.

Just take a look at the Georgia O'Keefe container combo. Its blooms come to life with the bold shape of Luna Red Hibiscus surrounded by Easy Wave White Petunias and Purple Lady Iresine. Just three varieties in an 18-inch container make a masterpiece! Flip the hibiscus to Luna Blush with Easy Wave Misty Lilac Petunias for a different look with the same impact. This heat-loving combination will tolerate higher humidity levels as well.

Unpredictable genius was behind Van Gogh's subtle and deliberate brushstrokes. Such sunny tones are unexpected in a shade planting, echoing Van Gogh's use of golden tones in happier times. Fill a window box with Wizard Golden Coleus, both Jungle Gold and Tango Impatiens, then temper with the cool tones of Super Elfin Blue Impatiens and Silver Falls Dichondra. These shimmering blooms will really light up the shadows.

Rose-colored glasses aren't needed to see a plant palette reminiscent of Renoir's sparkling light and color. At first glimpse it's a shade lover with hydrangea and coleus, but it's really an imaginative pairing of sun-loving Fantasia Neon Rose Geranium and Magilla Perilla woven through Angel Mist Light Pink Angelonia, Wink Pink Improved Diascia with Ballerina Rose Gaura.

When it comes to containers, creativity counts. Plant by Number Combinations can be easily adapted to old pails, tubs and troughs. Larger containers won't dry out as quickly. The use of a soil moistening agent can be useful in certain situations.

These plant pairings could be repeated to fill garden beds, where dangling plants can double as groundcovers. More experienced gardeners might use them as a leaping off point for more daring designs.

Explore all 16 possibilities at www.PlantByNumber.com, which can then direct you to the nearest garden center carrying the Simply Beautiful plants featured in the combinations. Find even more Simply Beautiful gardening ideas at www.SimplyBeautifulGardens.com.

Where Can I Find All These Plants?

Check Virtual Plant Tags -- The Searchable Plant Database, from Green Industry Yellow Pages -- GIYP.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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