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Get Smart with Your Springtime Garden

It isnt officially Springtime according to the calendar, but all over Delaware you can see cherry blossoms budding and daffodils and other perennials poking up from their winter hiding places. Its a fine sight for those of us who love gardening or at least love the way our gardens look once the hard work is done. One way to make that work a lot easier and save money is to plan wisely and ensure youre giving your flowers, shrubs and trees the best chance to thrive.

With a nod to the experts at the University of Delaware, Scenic Outdoors, East Coast Garden Center, Pepper's, Whartons and Windsors in Sussex County, were happy to offer a few bits of advice.

Survey your soil. As the University of Delaware link shows, soil varies widely in Delaware, with an abundance of clay being common in northern regions and sandy compositions being more common in the coastal areas. Either way, if you dig up the mulch you put down last year and find the soil underneath to be clumpy, moldy or shallow, or riddled with sand or clay, you should add high-quality topsoil thats loose, dark and full of the nutrients that will give your plants a healthy start.

One way to know if the soil is right, according to Tim Johnson at The Chicago Tribune is to make a ball of it in your palm. If the soil breaks apart easily when you press it with your thumb its suitable for planting. If it still sticks together it needs more time to dry out before you plant.

Take stock of your sun and shade:

Over a few days with varying amounts of cloud cover, take a long look at your yard or patio so you understand the different areas that are mostly sunny or mostly shady or in between before you spend money at the garden center.

Areas that get a lot of direct sun are good for begonias, Angelonia, celosia, marigolds, and zinnias, all of which tend to stay healthy and colorful throughout the spring, summer and early fall. Areas that have a mix of sun and shade tend to be good spots for Impatiens, petunias, lobelia, and most begonias.

Areas that are shadier throughout the day are good spots for Geraniums, fuchsia, and New Guinea impatiens.

Make sure youre planting trees and bushes at the best time of the year for different varieties. The early springtime months are good for planting dogwoods, willows, magnolias and fruit trees because they need time to get well established before the cold weather sets in.

Maple trees do better when theyre planted in the fall. You can also plant most shrubs in the spring if youre placing them in soil that isnt too wet, and well past the last frost.

Make sure you dont plant things that are going to grow too big for the space. Boxwoods, mini butterfly bushes, Hawthorne and Japanese holly will stay small and are good choices around condominium and twin home patios.

Oak leaf hydrangea which tend to grow beautifully in Southern Delaware and mountain laurel can grow higher than six feet.

You dont have to wait for beautiful early spring color. Forsythia, azaleas, witch hazel, andromeda and flowing quince all do well when planted in late March and April, with nice color for your garden right away.

Protect your investment by watering correctly. You also need to be very thoughtful about how much water you put on your plants, and when. The annuals listed here should be watered every day during the first few months unless you get full days of rain. You should water each plant for at least a minute.

Your perennials should also be watered for at least a minute per plant every 3 days.

Water your trees every five days, with 10 minutes of for each tree, and water your shrubs every 5 days, allotting 5 minutes for each shrub, with the exception of hydrangea and spirea, which should be watered every 3 days.

If youve put sod down on your lawn you should water it immediately after laying down, then water it 30 minutes a day for the first 2 weeks. Until the temperature hits 85 degrees, in which case you should water twice a day. During the third week you should water once every third day. Once the sod is deeply rooted water for long periods of time every few days.

If you seeded your lawn you should dampen the ground 2 or 3 times a day. Once the grass starts growing you should water once a day for a longer amount of time.

Water with the right equipment. Its good to have a hose with an attachment that enables you to deliver water in a variety of strengths, from showers, to mists, to a spray. And if youve just put down sod or seeds youll need to set up a sprinkler that pulses across the entire area since high-arching sprinklers usually wont provide enough water.

Water in the morning. Rain doesnt replace watering unless its a full day of soaking rain.

Watch out for wilting. It means the root system is having trouble. If it happens, give the plants root system a day or so to dry out.

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