Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring has sprung

"In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote.

Spring also turns homeowners' fancies heavily to thoughts of seeding, mulching, trimming, sweeping, lopping and the other plant-related "ings" of the vernal season.

Today marks the vernal equinox, the official start to spring. However, the beginning of spring does not mean homeowners should plunge directly into the gardening season, as late frosts have killed many an early garden. Local gardening and landscaping experts have said there is much one can do to get the garden ready during the cold.

"Preparation of the area is probably the single most important factor in what they're going to end up with in their garden," Geneva Greenhouse manager Craig MacLean said.

MacLean recommended spending the warmer days of the next few weeks prepping the garden with organic material such as manure, mushroom compost or peat moss.

"When the ground softens up, turn it in," he said. "You don't want to do it when it's all wet and mucky, but the sooner you get it in, the sooner you can plant."

MacLean recommended Father Dom's Duck Doo. The creation of a Roman Catholic priest, the compost is made of cranberries, rice hulls, wood shavings, vanilla beans, pickles and duck excrement. All proceeds benefit charity.

"My wife and I tried it in our garden last year, and we got the best tomatoes we've ever gotten," he said.

MacLean said there are an increasing number of frost-resistant plants that can be planted in the cold. Also, planting the greens does not need to take place outdoors, as plants can be transferred to the garden later.

"A lot of people like to do container gardening earlier, then if there's a chance of frost, they can just wheel it inside for the night," he said.

For those planting trees, there is no need to wait, said Ron Rehling, the owner of Deerpath Nursery in Batavia.

"Generally, people wait too long," Rehling said. "They should be selecting and planting their trees during dormancy because they transport best before bud-break."

As for late frost, Rehling said that is a problem everywhere.

"The same frost that's going to exist in the nursery is going to exist at their house, so there's no protection, there's no reason to wait," he said.

However, he said many trees and shrubs that have been transported from different areas might not tolerate the cold as well.

"If it doesn't match up with the condition of trees in the area, a red flag goes up that it was imported from a different climatic area," Rehling said.

For expert advice, any resident can call the University of Illinois Extension Kane County at (630) 584-6166. From May 1 to Sept. 30, homeowners can call the horticulture help desk and speak to the volunteer master gardeners from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Homeowners still can call before May 1, horticulture educator Barbara Bates said. However, the homeowner must leave a message for extension staff to return later.

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