By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
Jose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master
gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.
Spring! You dreamed of it all winter, and now it’s here! We know you’re excited, but remember the last frost date is May 5, so you will need to be patient about planting frost-sensitive crops — such as tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplant — until then. What to do in the meantime?
Early spring is a good time to prepare your beds for planting. First, clean them up if you did not do it in the fall. Second, add compost to the vegetable beds to prepare them for this year’s plantings.
Some other garden chores to add to your “to do” list:
For flower gardens:
- After clearing the remains from last year, you can mulch the flower beds to prevent weed propagation. It is a perfect time for deadheading and pruning, but be careful not to prune spring-blooming shrubs and bushes. Do not prune evergreens until late April since they need warmer weather to grow their foliage.
- Bulbs will be in full bloom soon. Crocuses are up already, and some daffodils are peeking out and will bloom within days, but there is nothing that you can do with them now since they must be planted in the fall. Early native bloomers include violets, golden Alexanders, Eastern columbine, and creeping phlox (my favorite spring plant for its color and exquisite fragrance). New Jersey’s state flower, the violet, is underappreciated, but violets have great value as the host plant for the fritillary butterflies and make an excellent ground cover in difficult spots. Golden Alexanders are also an important butterfly host plant, in this case for black swallowtail butterflies.
- With your early spring plants up, you may want to thin some areas of the garden. Be sure that you are using a big shovel to dig around the plants that you want to thin. Go deep to remove your plants, then divide them into small bunches and immediately replant them. The wet spring soil makes it a good time to dig out wild onions from your flower beds and lawn. Take advantage of the warming weather to seed your new plant containers with flowers and bulbs for late spring or summer. I recommend using self-watering containers, which will save you watering time during the summer.
For planting vegetables:
- If starting your vegetable garden from seeds, try to avoid genetically modified seeds. Heirloom seeds are best since they are not genetically modified and produce varieties of vegetables that may be hard to find commercially.
- Now, let’s explore the possible vegetables for early planting. Lettuce, arugula, and sugar snap peas are suitable for planting at the beginning of the spring. Peas do well in cool weather and have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen in the soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil has thawed, but April is not too late. Varieties like snow and sugar snap peas are best since they are very productive and easy to harvest. To plant peas, you can simply use your fingers to poke a hole in the soil about one inch deep for each seed. Plant peas about two inches apart. Taller varieties will need a trellis to climb.
- It is also a good time to divide your strawberries or buy new plants. If you missed planting garlic last fall, you can also plant it for a later summer harvest. I highly recommend covering your beds with nets since hungry garden predators will be around.
Planning for the next generation:
- By mid-April, you will be able to plant the second generation of veggies in your garden, like kale, broccoli, collard greens, and cabbage. It is also a good time for potatoes and carrots.
Make your selection of ornamental plants for May and June. It is safe to plant anything after the first week of May.
Spring will soon be in full force!