Spring is desperately trying to return to Ashtabula County, but Old Man Winter keeps clawing his way back with sinking nighttime temperatures and killing frosts. The frugal gardener must protect plants from these and other problems our gardens face.
The first rule to remember is to do no harm. Mulch piles are springing up at garden supply stores everywhere, but mulch must not be applied before the soil gets a chance to warm up.
You should be removing mulch from perennials that are beginning to push their way up to the warmth of the sun, especially if you laid down a thick layer of winter protection in the fall.
While cleaning leaves and debris out of your garden beds, be careful of the tender growth emerging from shrubs and perennials. Your best rake in tight quarters will be gloved hands rather than steel tines.
The war against weeds begins now. Just make sure you don’t pull up that herb you forgot you planted last year. And be careful around the shallow roots of shrubs and perennials like rhododendrons and bleeding hearts. Saving plants is much cheaper than replacing them.
Do not set out tender seedlings too early. If you grow your own plants, be sure to harden them off by gradually allowing them more sun and exposure to wind and rain over a period of seven to ten days. Watch them carefully so that they do not dry out and bring them in at night unless you can put them in a cold frame.
One internet website states that in the 44004 area code, “You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from May 2 through October 14.” Around these parts, we have a 10 percent chance of getting a frost on or before June 8.
When threatened by a late frost, frugal gardeners have to act. Have your homemade cloches ready. Gallon jugs with the bottoms removed and old plastic pails work well. Even paper bags turned upside down over plants can be quite effective.
Floating covers protect larger plots from frost but can be expensive. Bed sheets, blankets, and drop cloths are a good substitute. If you use plastic sheeting, be sure to remove it before your plants cook when the sun comes out, and don’t let the plastic touch the foliage.
Once the threat of frost passes, gardeners have to deal with the onslaught of pests and disease.
Those floating row covers that protect plants from frost can also protect them from harmful insects. One local master gardener shops garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores for sheer curtains, which are much cheaper and last longer.
Sheer curtains can be used to cover vine crops like cucumbers from the time they bear their first true leaves until they blossom. The curtains must be secured to the ground so that beetles do not crawl under and get to plants. Removing them at first blossom allows beneficial insects like bees to pollinate.
Before using a pesticide, always identify the problem accurately and then choose the right product for the right plant.
The internet has many websites for homemade pesticides you might want to try.
The very best protection you can provide your plants is to ensure that they are strong and healthy.
To accurately determine what and how much fertilization your garden needs, call the Ashtabula County Extension Office for a testing kit. The results will tell you just what kind and how much fertilizer you should apply for your garden.
The Ashtabula County Master Gardeners members encourage you to send questions that you would like answered in this column to 39 Wall Street, Jefferson, Ohio 44047.