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Week of March 6, 2017

7 Garden Tasks You’ve Been Doing Wrong

Whether it is (bad) advice passed down from older generations, or your best of intentions run amok, here’s a list of habits to change to turn your thumb green again.

  • Change this habit: Pulling apart roots before planting. The only time this is necessary is if the roots are spinning in a circle in the pot and you are planting a shrub or tree with woody roots, which may eventually girdle, or strangle, the stem. Otherwise, new roots will grow just fine from the original root ball. Breaking apart roots can potentially do more damage if you break too many.
  • Change this habit: Putting clay shards or pebbles in the bottom of you pots to improve drainage. Actually, the opposite is true. Anything in the bottom of your pot makes the column of soil shorter, which actually means less drainage. Read here to understand what is happening.
  • Change this habit: Compacting the soil around newly planted plants with the heel of your foot. While getting rid of the larger air pockets helps the new roots establish into surrounding soil quickly, compacting the soil also removes the smaller air pockets that the roots need for gas exchange as well as water reservoirs. Better to use your hands. For big root balls, let the water you use settle the plant in.
  • Change this habit: Keeping flowers and vegetable plants in your garage until it’s safe to plant outside. If you like to get a head start on buying plants, remember that they have been growing in sunny greenhouses for a reason: they need light! Two or three days in the garage is fine, but anything over that, and you should at least put them outside during the warmer days until the nights are appropriate for your selection.
  • Change this habit: Waiting until Memorial Day to plant your vegetable garden. Here in Massachusetts, cold-tolerant vegetables like peas should be sown directly outside when the soil dries out, sometime around April 1st. Transplants of lettuce, broccoli, and some others can be planted in mid April. It’s easier to do it a little bit at time, too!  Your local professional will give you the best advice for your town.
  • Change this habit: Pruning spring-flowering shrubs on the first warm day. It may be tempting to tackle overgrown shrubs when the weather breaks, but you may prune off the flower buds by accident. Pruning at the wrong time won’t harm the plant, but has been known to harm marriages.
  • Change this habit: Setting your sprinklers to run every day for 15 minutes. Seeing you plants freshly misted every morning may get you misty-eyed as you drive out the driveway, but your plants will be crying for water later. A longer soak, once a week, encourages deep root growth. If your landscaper is in charge of your timers, make a note to talk with him or her about the settings when the weather warms up.

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