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Wednesday, February 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Get jump on spring chores

A bed of ferns is mulched with maple leaves left on the bed over the winter. Leaves, garden trimmings and shredded pine needles can be left in place in beds as a mulch that will break down into compost over time. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
A bed of ferns is mulched with maple leaves left on the bed over the winter. Leaves, garden trimmings and shredded pine needles can be left in place in beds as a mulch that will break down into compost over time. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

It looks like we just might get away with a mild winter. So, where do we go from here?

The signs of spring are emerging. Garlic bulbs are poking their little green heads up already in our community garden. It’s the middle of February, and I can dig in the garden so maybe I can start some transplanting. I heard a robin Friday morning, and Saturday I heard a red-winged blackbird in the marsh near our house. These birds normally don’t show up until late February or early March.

As I have said in previous columns in the past few weeks, its time to prune fruit trees and thin out overgrown shrubs. I’d wait until mid-March to do any applications of dormant oil or fungicide to control insects or peach leaf curl. The peach leaf fungicide needs to be sprayed on the trunk and buds before they start to swell. This is the only time you can prevent this disease that distorts the leaves. Dormant oil is applied to the cracks and cervices of the bark where insects tend to overwinter. If you didn’t get the leaf litter picked up from under your trees last fall, do it now to remove overwintering insects.

You can begin trimming down dead perennial and annual stems and ornamental grasses on days its comfortable to work outside. I’ve started recycling stem trimmings into mulch in the beds. I cut the stems and grass down and then cut them into small pieces to form a mulch layer. It’s messy but it is easy to do, and the debris breaks down into humus for the soil.

Check for cool season weeds like chickweed and shotweed. Both germinate in very cool weather and will be well on their way to going to seed by early April. If you have areas prone to them, mulch up more of your garden trimmings and cover the areas now.

The gophers and voles seem to be active already so set some traps in their runs.

Gophers are generally solitary animals, but each one can make a messy bunch of mounds with its diggings.

Voles will be hiding under garden debris, sheds and garages so set some traps for them. Don’t use poison baits as predators including your cat or dog can pick the carcasses for a snack.

Other than raking debris off your lawn, it’s too early to do much with the grass. The soil is too wet to run garden equipment on it, and grass plants aren’t growing enough to use a fertilizer application. Working wet soils this time of the year compacts it so that water and air can’t get in or drain away properly.

You may see the tips of spring bulbs emerging soon to test the weather. If it’s good, they will grow slowly. If not, they will sit until it’s warm enough.

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