Spring Gardening Tips by Ron Wolford

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Gray, cold winter days may seem endless, but soon the weather will be warm, tulips and daffodils will bloom, and grass will be green: sure signs of spring. "Grab your trowel and get ready for spring with the following tips," said Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

Don't rush the growing season­ - Be prepared for late-spring frosts. Cover tender plants with row covers, cardboard, blankets, hot caps, or newspaper. Do not use metal or plastic for protection; they can conduct cold to plants. "We have had frost as late as Memorial Day," Wolford added

.Never work your soil when it is wet - Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods. Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze. If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be tilled. If it doesn't crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple more days and test again before digging.

Avoid damping-off disease when starting seeds - Damping-off will cause seedlings to wilt and die. Use a sterile soil medium. Keep the temperature around 65 to 70 degrees for best germination and provide bottom heat if possible."Most of all, avoid overwatering," Wolford cautioned.

Buy healthy transplants - Leaves and stems should be green and healthy without any signs of yellowing or browning. Gently remove transplants from their pot and check the root system. Roots should be white with visible soil. Check for insects such as whiteflies or aphids.

Harden off transplants - Before exposing transplants to cool spring temperatures, wind, and sun, gradually introduce them to the outdoor environment over a seven- to ten-day period.

Divide perennials in the spring
- Dig around the plant and lift the clump out of the ground. Break the clump into sections. Larger sections will reestablish quicker than smaller sections. Keep the clumps moist until ready to plant.

Cut back ornamental grasses - Cut back ornamental grasses to about 4 to 6 inches. Not removing the foliage will delay the warming of the crown of the plant and will slow new growth. Ornamental grasses should be divided in the spring if the center of the plant has died out or if it has become overgrown.

Spring is the time to kill Creeping Charlie - Creeping Charlie has kidney bean-shaped leaves and blue flowers. It is most susceptible to weed killers when it is in flower in the spring. It tends to establish itself in parts of the lawn that are too shady for grass. You can also control Creeping Charlie with hand removal or hoeing before it sets seed.For more timely garden tips, check out the U of I Extension website "Garden Calendar" at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/hort/.