The everyday gardner: Waking up your garden from winter

Editor's Note: This is the first column in an occasional series by Meleah Maynard - a Linden Hills gardener who is eager to share tips on neighborhood gardening.

You know how, if you walk your dog, you meet a lot of people and you don't usually remember - or even ask for - their names. But you do always remember their dog's name and when you see that person and that dog again you think: &#8220Oh, hey, there's Buckles.”

Well, I'm that way with people's gardens, too. Your name may disappear from memory. But when I see you, I'll recall you like to grow orchids or are struggling with aphids or oak wilt.

How do I know these intimate details? Because as soon as the weather gets warm, I'm out in my yard gardening. This seems to send a signal to people that I must know things, things that might be of help in their own gardens. So they sidle over to my fence and ask questions. &#8220What are the black spots on my rose leaves? When should I prune my lilacs? Will slugs really stop eating my hostas if I put out a cup of beer?

I love answering these kinds of questions. That's why I've started this column, &#8220Everyday Gardener.” I don't have a degree in horticulture. I'm a nerd. A nerd who spends her free time gardening, reading about gardening, volunteering as a gardener and going to workshops to learn more about gardening.

Still, I remain a mere mortal. I get how daunting it is to learn botanical names of plants. I've had rabbits eat all my shrubs. I'm not good at math, so I get a little sweaty when I read fertilizer bags and see that in order to know how much to put on my lawn I'll have to use the square footage plus the phase of the moon divided by the number of days of rain in a given week. Or something like that. The truth is, gardening can be intimidating. There's a lot to know. But I'm here to tell you that you don't have to let what you don't know stop you from enjoying gardening. Learn as you go. Have fun. Say it with me, &#8220Mere mortals can be good gardeners, too.” That's right. That's our mantra.

And now that we've dispensed with fear, we can get on with a few spring gardening tips.

If you wrapped the trunks of your trees to protect them for the winter, now is a good time to remove the wrap to keep trapped moisture from causing disease. Head out into the garden and clear off leaves, excess mulch, and other winter debris. Cut back all your old perennials (plants that come back year after year). Once your tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs are finished blooming, resist the urge to cut off the foliage until it's completely yellow. That ugly greenery needs time to photosynthesize so your flowers will have the energy to bloom next year.

You don't really need to fertilize your lawn in the spring but if you want to you should wait until after you've mowed for the first time. Choose a fertilizer that's phosphorous-free and follow the instructions on the bag. I know. I know. It'll be OK. Small bare spots will fill in on their own. But if you've got bare patches bigger than your hand you'll want to reseed them. Scrape up the dirt a bit with a rake before seeding and keep the areas well watered. While you're at it you can fix all those dead spots the dog made, too, by removing the grass in those areas and reseeding.

One last thing, as tempting as it is to go to garden centers and buy, buy, buy like crazy after being held hostage for months by winter, remember it's a gamble to plant most things in Minnesota before mid-May. It never hurts to go and look, though.

Meleah Maynard is a master gardener and freelance writer who lives in Linden Hills. If you've got a gardening question you'd like her to address in her column, you can e-mail it to [email protected].