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RISMEDIA, May 14, 2011—(MCT)—The sun is shining a bit brighter, the days are getting longer and after a long snowy winter, many people are eager to work in their yards. To help guide you, we talked with Sandra Goeddeke-Richards, the Master Gardener Program coordinator for the Michigan State University Extension-Macomb in Clinton Township, Mich.

Q: What tips do you have for prepping a yard for spring planting?
A: Never work in wet, heavy soil. Now is a good time to start taking off some of the debris that we may have left over the winter to make way for the spring bulbs and spring growth to come through; but not necessarily raking. Leave a good layer of winter mulch for these surprise wintry days that still come. When I say debris, you can start cutting back the top parts of the mums or perhaps the coneflowers, as well as your grass.

Now is a really good time to look at the structure of your trees. Keep your eye out for branches that might be crossing or blocking sunlight. The rule of thumb is if it’s a spring-flowering tree, let it do its spring bloom and do your pruning after the bloom.

Q: Should gardeners get their soil tested?
A: If you’ve never done it before, it is a good place to understand the nutrients of your plants, whether it is a vegetable garden or flowers or turf. Take 6 to 10 random samples from the site about 4-6 inches deep and mix those samples in a bucket. We need two cups of mix dried out and put in a plastic bag. For minimal charge, we send (it) to Michigan State University’s soil testing lab. The results come back in about 10 days to two weeks, customized and interpreted for your use. It would tell you if your soil is too acidic and how to offset that appropriately for your current crop—be it vegetables, turf or perennials.

Q: When is it safe to plant annuals and perennials?
A: You want to watch that soil moisture. In the vegetable department, they’re planting the seeds of peas but only because they’re so tolerant of cold, wet soil. Pansies are often the first things you can plant because they are cold- tolerant and will even tolerate some snow on them.

Depending on the annual—frost and cold hardiness is something you want to watch out for—generally the safest time (to plant) is mid- to late May. Most of us start planting around Mother’s Day. But even then we’re taking a risk. So just be ready with some sheets of newspaper if we have a sudden low that happens at night.

Q: When is the best time to fertilize?
A: When the plant is actively growing and can actively take it up. That is going to vary with temperature. The only bad time to fertilize a plant is if it is really dry or if it is (dormant) or just recently transplanted. For grass, (the best time is) late May early June.

Q: Vegetable gardening is popular. What are some common mistakes?
A: Strangely enough, doing too much. A new gardener should start small and just grow things they really love to eat. And then as we start to expand upon it and learn, maybe try one experiment. Most of the time I see a vegetable garden being unsuccessful because somebody just bit off more than they could chew. They didn’t realize they would have to put some work into it throughout the season. Then they end up with a zillion zucchini and they’re overwhelmed and let them rot. So just understanding what their family will want to eat and start with that. Another one is vegetables need a lot of sun. If it’s shaded most of the day, it won’t be a place to grow vegetables.

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