Charlie's Gardening Tips - Now that Spring is Really Here . . .

By Charlie Ruedebusch, Head Gardener @ Cheney Mansion If you haven’t had time to go out and prepare your gardens or planters for the year, don’t worry. The season is just starting!

If your garden soil is heavy and full of clay (and whose isn't around here?), get yourself lots of compost and mix mix mix it into the soil. Hard work now makes for much easier gardening and happier plants for years to come. Add some slow-release, granular fertilizer into the soil as you mix in the compost (follow the package directions for amounts).

If you have planters and haven’t replaced the potting mix for a few years, buy new mix this year. Old potting soil tends to break down over the years (it is organic, after all). Some potting mixes have fertilizer already in them – if not, add your own slow-release fertilizer according to directions. Don’t use any topsoil in containers – it’s much too dense.

The weather we had this year reminds us that it does still get cold in Chicagoland in May!   While vegetables like peas, lettuce, radishes, and carrots, and flowers like pansies don’t mind cold weather and could be planted back in April, many other veggies and most annual flowers need warm weather to thrive. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants hate cold weather and cold soil, and are best planted after mid-May. Many expert gardeners don’t plant their tomatoes until Memorial Day!

If you’ve started your own seeds indoors this year (good for you!), or purchased seedlings from a greenhouse, it’s a good idea to “harden off” the seedlings before planting them in the garden. This just means setting them outside in the shade for a few days, and bringing them back into the house or porch at night. This gives the tender seedlings a little transition time to get used to the big wide world out there in the garden.

Late May is a great time to plant seeds of cucumbers, melons, squash, and beans directly into the garden. Cukes, melons, and squash plants will get big by the end of summer, so give them plenty of room in the garden.

You can snip off the spent flowers from spring bulbs, but not the foliage. The leaves are needed to make food stored in the bulbs for next year’s flowers. Lightly fertilizing the plants just after they flower (or earlier, just after they pop out of the ground) can’t hurt. While daffodils and hyacinths often come back year after year, tulips are fussier and tend to bloom only for a few years – it’s not you, it’s them.

You can make fall-blooming perennials such as mums, asters, or sedums bushier with lots more flowers by doing this simple trick. Pinch or shear a few inches off the plants twice in late spring: once in mid-May, and once in early June.

Now for the W word. Weeds are always with us. Keep on top of them when they’re small, and you’ll save yourself lots of work later in the season.

Enjoy the season!