April 28, 2011 in Washington Voices

Cold means you still have time to plant trees

Pat Munts
 

Well, we broke a dubious weather record last Sunday. April 24 was the latest we have ever experienced a 60-degree day for the first time in the spring. The old record was 1917 – 94 years ago.

The only good thing that can be said for this horribly cold spring is that the weeds are slow to come up. Everything is behind, and a lot of our usual seasonal milestones to do certain tasks aren’t happening as expected. So what can a gardener do in this wacky weather?

Herbicides don’t work as well or take a lot longer to have an impact when the temperature is less than 60 degrees. Most herbicides need temperatures closer to 70 degrees to activate the chemicals. The best you can do is to wait until a 60-plus-degree day rolls around and then apply the chemicals during the warmest part of the day.

If you didn’t get some perennials or small shrubs moved earlier, the weather is still cool enough to move or divide them. Don’t move spring flowering perennials until they finish blooming later in the spring. Without heat, daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs will be around longer for us to enjoy this year.

Now is the time to prune back roses for the final time. On tea and other grafted roses, look for emerging buds on the stems above the graft and prune between them and the blackened tip of the cane. If you see growth below the graft point, the top or pretty part of the rose has died and the root stock is coming out. Most rootstock roses aren’t worth keeping so dig it out and buy a new one.

Cool weather is a great time to plant trees, especially bare-root fruit trees. Dig a dish-shaped hole that is a little deeper than the roots and two to three times as wide. Place the tree so the soil line will be just above the point where the roots come together to form the trunk. Backfill the hole with unamended native soil you dug out and water well. Adding compost to the soil slows the tree’s ability to establish itself.

Over in the vegetable garden, resist the urge to plant corn, beans, basil or other warm-season crops until it really warms up, usually about the end of May. If they are planted too early, the seed may rot in the ground or the plants could be permanently stunted. If you buy tomato or pepper plants, keep them indoors under lights. We are going to get more frosts and they are not frost-hardy.

Do plant peas, carrots, spinach, onions, beets, potatoes, lettuce and the cole crops. This cooler weather is perfect for them. They can take a frost or two and recover nicely. Keep some tarps handy, though, and cover even these crops if it looks like we might get below 25 degrees.

Above all, be patient. It will warm up, and by the end of July we will be begging for cooler weather.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.

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