Marianne Binetti

For gardeners, it’s time to get busy

The second week of spring means it is time to fertilize your lawn, cut back the roses, plant peas and other cool season vegetables (if your soil is not too soggy) and begin the joy of garden cleanup.

It was a cold, wet winter, so take it slow when it comes to planting seeds and working your soil. Fertilizing the lawn and pruning chores are the two most important tasks that should not be delayed.

While you are out in the garden, take note of the worst weed infestations and make a promise to root out the invaders this month before they have a chance to go to seed. Here are the most asked questions about early spring gardening.

Q: I am planting a vegetable garden and the seed packs do not have a date that tells me when to plant. What does it mean when the seed companies say “plant in early spring” or “plant when the soil can be worked? ” — G. email

A: Great question as the planting date for seeds of peas, sweet peas, lettuce, kale and other plants is determined by how quickly your soil drains and when it is convenient to get outdoors and loosen the soil. This year mid-March is a great time to start seeding cool-season crops outdoors. Plant as late as mid-April if your soil is wet and soggy.

Q: What are cool-season crops and how do I know them from warm-season crops? I know I should start warm-season crops indoors this month and set them outside in May. — M.B., Maple Valley

A: Cool-season crops are mostly leafy greens such as kale, spinach, lettuce and onions but also peas and sweet peas. You can tell them from warm-season crops because the seed package will tell you to plant in early spring while for warm-season crops the package will say to plant after all danger of frost has passed — in Western Washington this usually means to plant warm-season crops such as tomatoes, beans, squash and cucumbers in mid-May outdoors and you have the option of starting warm-season crops indoors now for setting out later.

Q: I have overwintered some geraniums and fuchsias in my garage. They show signs of life but when can I move them back outdoors? They are rather messy and taking up a lot of room. — J.P., email

A: Don’t move those tender things outdoors just yet. What they really want is bright light from a south-facing window in a cool room so they can slowly wake up and be ready to go outdoors in May after all danger of frost. If you do not have a greenhouse or spare room to store the awakening plants, you can gamble and move them to a protected porch or patio or keep them in the garage for a few more months. Don’t feel too bad if overwintered plants are sacrificed to a sudden cold spell and end up mushy memories of their former selves. They end up flowering much later in the summer than newly grown plants you can get at the nursery to replace them — and dead plants make great fodder for the compost pile. We all need more compost.

Q: Our maintenance staff just pruned back the camellias and rhododendrons at the end of February. I know you say that pruning should be done after the spring bloomers have finished flowering. Will our incorrectly pruned shrubs survive? What do I need to do now to help them? — S.K., Olympia

A: Calm acceptance is your best approach when pruning is done at the “wrong” time. Most shrubs will survive pruning at any time of year but you will miss out on a spring bloom season. Evergreens such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and laurels are very adaptive so there is nothing special you need to do when they are pruned in early spring — except maybe admire the blooms in other people’s gardens instead of your own.

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