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Get your gardening game plan together and dig in

For many gardeners, like myself, springtime is that opportunity to rub some sleep out of our eyes, sharpen our tools, do a couple of stretches on a mat calling it yoga and start getting our hands dirty.

Despite the incessant winds, occasional hail/snow storm and freezing temperatures, we seek out the young tender weeds, hoping that they come out of the ground more easily than they will in a couple of months; we turn compost and over-wintered leaves into the garden, always spying for the earthworms and roly-polies; and we set out our seeds for the vegetable garden with the renewed hopes that this will be the year that the flea beetles are absent, the last freeze arrives sometime before the first of June and the tomatoes actually turn red.

A combination of planning, experience, good graces from Mother Nature and luck are what can turn a brown thumb green in around 120 days.

As you venture outside with your pale neck and soon-to-be calloused palms, I hope that you have a written checklist of what needs to get done.

Hopefully, you have already completed all your fruit tree pruning. Remember: If the tree has already started to blossom or leaf-out, don’t prune. It’s too late. Wait until midsummer to do some corrective pruning and then pick a weekend sometime in February or March of 2022 to prune those trees. If you have a lawn and feel like it needs a little punch, now is the time to fertilize. We recommend putting down about a half pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn. How much is that you ask? Let’s say your fertilizer bag is 20% nitrogen (on the front of the bag/container will be three numbers – the first number is nitrogen, like 20-0-0) and you have about 1,000 square feet of lawn. That would equate to 5 pounds of fertilizer that you would need to apply (1 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet/.20 = 5 pounds). In the vegetable garden, go ahead and direct-seed some of the cold-season crops. Lettuce, snap peas, spinach, kale, beets and carrots can all be seeded as long as the soil temperatures are above 45 degrees.Mulch. I’m asking for mulch for my birthday (May 2 for all of you, just in case your calendars are handy). In addition to slowly decomposing into organic material, organic mulches (shredded bark, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves or straw) can greatly reduce soil temperatures, erosion and weed competition, while decreasing the amount of water needed to apply. In the beds, apply no more than 3 to 4 inches; walkways can be closer to 6 inches.Newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs can also be quickly stressed if adequate water is not given to them. By no means am I saying that 2021 is not the year to establish or add to your landscape. It may be the year where you focus on waterwise, or xeric, plants, or purchase plants grown in smaller containers or pots. The establishment period for these plants is typically shorter than those in larger containers.As you prepare and execute this “gardening game plan,” know that not everything will be successful. That’s the beauty of the garden. We can exclaim how wonderful it was that the carrots came up but scream at the deer for eating our tulips right as they were ready to bloom. We can marvel at the beauty of the apricot blossoms but curse when the night temperatures reach 25 degrees, killing them off. Gardening is fickle and frustrating, but for some reason we always come back the next year.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.

Darrin Parmenter