Gardening: prepare your gardening tools while waiting for spring

Winter is getting old. The snow in our well-shaded, north-facing yard isn’t pretty anymore and what’s there might as well be concrete. I have some plants I brought from the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival in my family room because it’s too cold to put them out, no matter how frozen the ground is. Last week, Costco was selling potting soil right next to a pallet of bags of de-icing pellets. Go figure.

So what can a repressed and bored gardener do?

There is the tool holder to clean. Take a stiff brush and sandpaper for the tools you didn’t clean last fall and clean off the dirt and rust. Oil tool handles with a light coating of linseed oil to protect the wood and reduce the risk of chipping. Cutting tools, including pruning tools and shovels, need their blades cleaned and sharpened. A few well-placed swipes with a file can significantly reduce your workload and fatigue when you go to use them. If the lawn mower is in need of repair, now is the time to take it over and leave it for a while. Get out all your old gloves, match the pairs, and throw out any that have holes in them.

If you have mason bee colonies, now is the time to clean out the empty tubes and insert new paper straws for this year’s nesting. If you stored your bees in the garage, the boxes should come out in mid-March to be ready for the warmer weather. When the bees come out, the males appear a few weeks before the females.

Fruit trees will need to be sprayed with dormant spray by the end of March. If you have peach trees, mid-March will be the best time to apply lime sulfur sprays to prevent peach leaf curl. The spray should be on the trees before bud break to prevent the leafroll fungus from entering the leaf buds as they open. This is the only time of year when this disease can be treated.

March is the best season for pruning and shaping fruit trees. Trees under five years old shouldn’t require much pruning beyond removing crowded branches. In older trees, remove broken or dead branches first, then remove branches that cross and rub against each other. Next, remove weak branches or those growing in the center of the tree. Learn about your variety’s pruning techniques, as different varieties will have different fruiting characteristics. Never cut branches at the same height. Always leave one or two tall shoots as these branches will slow the development of suckers.

Finally, as it really begins to warm up, watch for the first bulbs of spring to pop their heads. Snowdrops will be followed first by crocuses and snow glories. Next will come the miniature reticulated iris. Tulips and daffodils could tip their leaves and wait for even better weather.

Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at [email protected]

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