Alabama Gardener – Spring Gardening Tips
One of the great things about gardening in Alabama is that we can grow at least three gardens each year–one in spring, one in early summer, and then we get another round of digging and planting in the fall. The blooming of dogwoods is the traditional sign that the spring planting season has arrived, which you can celebrate in style whether your passion is vegetables, flowers, fruits or a velvet green lawn.In the vegetable garden, plant peas and Irish potatoes without delay, because these crops require cool weather. Peas need a fence or trellis, and potatoes require plenty of mulch. But both crops are so superior when gathered fresh from the garden that they are well worth a little trouble. Also sow seeds of leaf lettuce, radish, spinach, parsley, chard and beets, and finish up your spring planting with a little bed of carrots. All of these salad crops may need to be covered with an old blanket during cold nights, but during spells of sunny weather they will quickly grow to picking size.Start seeds of tomato and pepper indoors, but only gardeners along the coast should think about setting out plants this early. However, it’s a good idea to adopt store-bought seedlings as soon as they come off the truck so you can transplant them to larger pots. Plants that never suffer setbacks from cramped roots always bear longer and stronger compared to plants that are stressed early in life.In flowerbeds, set out new perennials such as purple coneflower, stokesia, rudbeckia (black-eyed susan) and coreopsis in sunny spots, and fill shady beds with hostas and ferns. Then fill gaps with annuals that like cool weather, including fragrant sweet alyssum, dianthus, lobelia and verbena. When in doubt about what to plant in a high-visibility container, pair petunias with dusty miller for an outstanding display that will look handsome until midsummer. This also is the best time to plant summer-blooming bulbs including lilies, dahlias and crocosmia. And, if you love fragrant flowers, you will want to add some old-fashioned tuberoses to your collection. Excellent drainage is needed for these and other summer bulbs, so be sure to avoid low spots that stay muddy for a long time after heavy rains.If thin places in your lawn insist on filling in with crabgrass, this is the ideal time to apply a crabgrass preventer. Spend a little time inspecting your lawn, and carry a fishtail weeder with you for prying up dandelions. If your lawn is fescue, a light feeding is in order, and you can overseed bare spots with fresh seed. In lawns planted with warm-season grasses such as bermuda, centipede, St. Augustine or zoysia, pull isolated winter weeds by hand before they shed seeds. But wait until the grass greens up and starts to grow to undertake serious lawn repairs, apply fertilizer, or plant new sprigs or sod.The cold snaps of December may have killed the latent buds on figs, but you’ll need to cut into the stems to assess the damage. Prune figs back until you see green wood inside the stems. Blueberries need little pruning, but they appreciate a light application of an organic or timed-release fertilizer, scratched into the soil around the base of the plants. If you grow strawberries, take the time to mulch between the plants with pine straw. It will help keep the fruits clean, and may discourage problems with slimy slugs.