Spring is near, but not here



by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs


3/2/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Even though the temperature has been warm and flowers are in bloom, gardeners should postpone planting until April.

"No matter what, hold off, since we haven't gotten through March," said Jane McCarthy, horticulturist at the base greenhouse. "Our soil is not warm enough yet."

McCarthy said there's an old wives' tale discouraging planting until Good Friday, which is April 6 this year. She takes it a step further and says to wait until tax day, April 15.

Spring hasn't officially sprung in Alabama, and the possibility of snow or frost in March remains. In case cold occurs, McCarthy suggests covering new growths with old leaves or grass clippings to keep them warm.

McCarthy said she has seen tomato plants on sale at local stores but discourages planting them now. She said a good test for knowing if the soil is warm enough for tomatoes is to go outside barefoot. If the ground feels comfortable, it's the right time to plant.

She also advised keeping potted plants indoors for now. "Don't bring out plants until the nights are consistently in the 50s, preferably in the high 50s," McCarthy said.
Just because planting is on hold does not mean gardeners should stay inside. Yards still need some TLC.

"What we're doing now is cutting back roses, ornamental grasses," McCarthy said. "It's a great time to do shrub trimming, except for azaleas. Wait until after they bloom."

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, or ACES, encourages those with roses to be vigilant this time of year and address aphid infestations in new growth before flowers bloom.

One good sign this spring is the abundance of ladybugs, which eat plant-destroying aphids, McCarthy said.

When it comes to monkey grass, McCarthy recommends trimming it back before new growth begins, which can be as easy as running over it with the lawn mower. "Once all the old leaves are gone, the new ones can come up," she said.

The same goes for ivy and ferns. "(Trimming) makes room for fresh, clean growth this year," she said. "It's like having split ends or a bad permanent - you have to cut off the old for the good of the plant."

Later this month is a good time to fertilize. McCarthy suggests waiting until the forsythia blooms.

ACES stated March is a good time to inspect lawn equipment, check and repair sprayers, dusters and lawn mowers.