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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Prep your gardening tools while biding time waiting for spring

It won’t be long before the first spring bulbs start popping up to brighten our gardens. Look for snowdrops as the last of the snow disappears.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
It won’t be long before the first spring bulbs start popping up to brighten our gardens. Look for snowdrops as the last of the snow disappears. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Winter is getting old. The snow in our north facing, well shaded yard isn’t pretty anymore and what is there might as well be concrete. I have plants I brought back from the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival sitting in my family room because its too cold to put them out never mind that the ground is frozen. Last week Costco was selling potting soil right next to a pallet of bags of de-icer granules. Go figure.

So, what’s a pent-up, bored gardener to do?

There is the tool rack to clean up. Take a stiff brush and some sandpaper to the tools you didn’t clean up last fall and clean off the dirt and rust. Oil tool handles with a light coat of linseed oil to protect the wood and reduce the chance of splinters. Cutting tools including pruning tools and shovels need their blades cleaned and sharpened. A few well-placed swipes with a file can cut your work load and fatigue down considerably when you go to use them. If the lawn mower needs servicing, now is the time to take in and leave it for a while. Dig out all your old gloves and match the pairs back together and throw out the ones with holes.

If you have mason bee colonies now is the time to clean out the empty tubes and insert new paper straws for this year’s nesting. If you stored your bees in the garage, the boxes should go back out by mid-March to be ready for the warmer weather. When the bees do come out, the males will appear a couple of weeks ahead of the females.

Fruit trees will need to be sprayed with dormant spray by the end of March. If you have peach trees, mid-March will be the best time to apply lime sulfur sprays to prevent peach leaf curl. The spray needs to be on the trees before the buds break to prevent the fungus that causes the curl from getting into the leaf buds as they open. This is the only time of year this disease can be treated.

March is the best season to prune and shape fruit trees. Trees that are less than five years old shouldn’t need much pruning beyond removing crowded branches. In older trees, remove any broken or dead branches first and then remove branches that are crossing and rubbing. Then remove weak branches or those growing into the center of the tree. Read up on the pruning techniques for your variety as different varieties will have different fruit bearing characteristics. Never top branches at the same height. Always leave one or two tall leaders as these branches will slow the development of suckers.

Lastly, as it really begins to warm up, watch for the first spring bulbs to poke their heads out. Snowdrops will be first followed by crocus and snow glories. Next will come the miniature reticulated iris. Tulips and daffodils might stick the tips of their leaves out and wait for even better weather.

Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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