Binetti: Prepare your plants indoors for warm season

On GardeningApril 2, 2014 

The first week of April is all about weeding and seeding. You can reseed your lawn, plant seeds of cool-season vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, lettuce and radish, and pull weeds.

You also can plant warm-season seeds indoors for transplanting outside about six weeks from now, when all danger of frost is past. This means you can start tomatoes, peppers, squash and flowering annuals such as marigolds and zinnias on a sunny windowsill now and by mid-May they will be ready for the big move to the cold ground.

Spring is sprung, but don’t be an April fool and set out tender annual bedding plants such as geraniums, petunias and hanging baskets until mid-May. If you want more color, visit the nurseries this week and take home hardy rock garden plants, early blooming perennials, spring flowering shrubs and evergreens with colorful foliage. You can have more color with less work.

Q: We have added some raised beds to our landscape and want to put down gravel paths. My husband says we need to put plastic beneath the gravel to keep out the weeds. I heard you at a talk this spring and you said to use cardboard or newspaper. How can I convince him not to use plastic? — P.P., Poulsbo

A: Take him to see the movie about Noah’s Ark. Plastic under paths and under bark chips interferes with drainage and can cause flooding. It also stops the exchange of air.

Most weeds in pathways come from above – the seeds drop onto the surface of the gravel. Clearing an area of vegetation and then laying a weed block of cardboard or newspaper and a two to three inch layer of gravel will keep out almost any weed from below. Another tip to keep weeds from your gravel pathways is to compact the gravel using a rolling compacter.

This hard packed surface will be less susceptible to the weed seeds that fall onto your pathway. I’ve also added flat rocks and stepping stones to my gravel paths to make them a bit easier to walk upon.

Q: My azalea bushes are growing moss in the branches. This is not little bits of green on the stems this is hairy green clumps of moss. Can I spray the azaleas with moss killer? — P.L. Puyallup

A: Moss is not the monster you think it is. It is simply an opportunist that grows in any dark, damp place. Moss will not kill your plants or your lawn.

You have several solutions. You can transplant the azalea to a spot with more sunlight, you can prune overhead tree branches to let in more sunlight, or you can try to thin or prune out some of the center of your azaleas to let in more light. The easy answer is to just ignore the moss – or learn to admire the emerald green color. I do not recommend spraying your shrubs with moss killer.

Q: I have a beautiful blooming rhododendron – unfortunately it is growing right in front of my living room window and I am tired of pruning it every year. When is the best time to transplant large shrubs? — L.K., Longview

A: Dig in any time the ground is not frozen to move shallow-rooted shrubs such as rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas, but wait until most shrubs are leafless or dormant in the late fall or early spring.

For a successful transplant, water well the night before, dig a trench around the rootball — usually as far out as the branches spread — then uproot the rootball by slipping a shovel or crowbar under the plant.

Next transfer it all onto a tarp and wrap up the roots to keep the soil around them. Drag the tarp to the new location and slide into a hole so that the rhodie is growing at the same level it was before. Be sure to keep the roots moist the first summer as a new root system forms. Now let your beautiful rhododendron grow into a tree the way nature intended and you’ll both be happier.

Meet Marianne

10 a.m. Sunday at Windmill Gardens in Sumner, a talk about adding color to a landscape, with tips for beginner gardeners and new plant ideas. Register at windmillgarden.com or call 253-863-5843.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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