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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, May 12, 2018 1:00 am

Your top priority right now: The lawn

Ricky Kemery

Question: It has been so cool and wet; I haven't been able to get anything done in the garden and yard. Any thoughts on setting priorities?

Answer: This year, summer will arrive without much of a spring. When I was just a lad, it always amazed me how it could be dull and gray one day and then filled with green in the flash of an eye.

That is where we are now. Trees are beginning to flower and leaf out. Many lawns are ready for the first mowing. Planting time is here. Our garden and landscape to-do list could overwhelm us this year.

Lawn maintenance is a high priority at the moment. Make sure the oil is changed and the blades are sharp. Try not to mow when the lawn is wet. Remove about a third of the grass blades in any one mowing; and try to set the mower height to 21/2 to 3 inches. Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer with low or no phosphorous. Apply weed control (I prefer spot treatments) when the weeds actually emerge.

Planting would be my next priority. The long range forecasts are for a cooler summer in our area. This means it should be a great year to plant trees and shrubs in the landscape because they will have optimal conditions to grow. Remember the rules of planting: Dig the planting hole twice as wide as the root space. Avoid 90-degree sides – rather scoop out the hole in the shape of a half moon. Only amend the backfill (the stuff you dug out of the hole) about 20 percent with sphagnum peat or compost. Set the plant so the root flare (the place where the trunk flares out to the roots) is above grade. Remove any wires, strings and burlap after setting the plant in the hole. Fill the planting hole with the amended backfill and then water. Stake the plant if necessary. Only use about 3 inches of bark mulch around the plant, leaving a 12-inch space bare where the base of the plant is.

Prepare and plant cool-season veggies and pray the cool weather continues. After the frost date (about May 15) plant warm-season vegetables and annuals. Some annual flowers that might do very well in a cooler summer would be: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, annual dianthus, lobelia, scarlet flax, annual baby's breath, calendula, Shirley poppy, ornamental Kale, and bachelor's buttons – just to name a few. Delphiniums, foxglove, bellflowers and lupines are shorter-lived perennials to try in cooler summers.

Pruning would be the final priority. First, evaluate and prune away any winter damage on shrub roses, hydrangeas, and boxwood. Then I would tackle deciduous trees and shrubs and evergreens. Remember prune only about a third of a tree or shrub in any one season. Try to make diagonal cuts above outward facing buds or small branches, and do not use any pruning sealer. If you can complete all these tasks, you are truly a can-do person.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.