Spring garden cleanup

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     It is early in the season, but it looks like a banner year for the hellebores.  The first blooms came early, and this week, several clumps have burst forth with numerous flowers.  The flowers are quite large and the colors are vivid.  Of course, there are still several clumps that have not started to bloom, so I can look forward to hellebores for several months.
     With the hellebores in bloom, I have begun spring garden clean-up.  I recommend leaving as much stubble as possible until we have had a week with temperatures consistently in the fifties.  The debris from last year’s garden provides winter shelter for a host of insects, and most will not emerge until spring warmth arrives.  However, the old hellebore foliage certainly detracts from the beauty of the blooms, so I have begun cutting the old leaves off at the soil level.  I have not determined that there are any beneficial insects that specifically over-winter in hellebores; after all, they are not native to our area.  Still, I will refrain from shredding the leaves at this time.  Instead, I will create a bin for the leaves at the edge of the garden.  Later in the spring, I will shred the leaves and add them to the regular compost bin.
     It is also time to begin vegetable gardening.  While winter is far from over, we will have some nice days when outside work is possible.  I would not recommend gardening in traditional garden beds until the soil dries.  Walking on saturated soils will result in compaction, and that could mean adverse effects for the future.  However, for those who garden in raised beds and who are able to work the soil from the outside of the beds, some early planting is possible.  One crop that can be planted early is potatoes.  As regular readers may remember, I have been raising potatoes on top of the ground.  Raised beds filled with compost are perfect for starting this process.  One need simply place the seed potatoes, making sure each section contains a couple of “eyes”, on the ground and cover with at least six inches of compost.  In this cold weather, it will likely be a few weeks before any leaves sprout.  As the plants grow, fill in around them with compost or shredding plant material.  I usually use straw, shredded leaves and even some shredded paper.  When it comes time to harvest, it is easy to push back the shredded material and pull out the potatoes.  
      Of course, this planting method has attracted the attention of garden supply companies, and each company has developed some sort of growing bag, bucket or bin specifically designed for raising potatoes in this way.  Some even have doors at the bottom which one can open and take out a few potatoes while the plant continues to grow.  If you have the money for such bins, go ahead.  However, I will attest that this method works just fine using buckets, barrels and even tires, from which the sidewalls have been cut.
     By early March, garden peas may be planted.  Again, raised beds are more likely to be accessible at this time of the year, but for anyone who prepared a spot last fall, early peas can be a great crop.  I recommend using an inoculant on the peas, and soaking the seed overnight will increase germination.  I also recommend planting peas along a fence or some sort of trellis.  It is easier to have that in place from the beginning than to add support when the plants start to vine.  Growing peas on supports will keep the vines off the ground, helping reduce disease.  It also makes it easier to pick the peas when they are ready.
     Valentine’s Day is a traditional day for planting lettuce.  Most cool-weather leafy greens will do well in cold frames.  Keep the frames covered when temperatures are below freezing, but remember to open the cover on days when temperatures rise above fifty degrees.  Plant a few onion sets in the bed and in a few weeks, you will have the makings for wilted lettuce.



Please Login for Premium Content

Site Login Help

For current subscribers to The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat, you can login to the site using the following information:

Username: Please use your full email address associated with your account
Password: Please use your last name. Passwords are case sensitive, so please capitalize your last name (eg: Smith)