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Prepare for spring lawn, garden work

Even during the cold winter days when weather is too uncomfortable to think about any outdoor gardening activity, chores can be done inside to get a jump on spring.

"If you don't start preparing for spring lawn and garden activities now, there may not be enough time when cold weather breaks," said Patrick Byers, a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

The following is a top-10 list of gardening activities from Byers that should be done during the dormant season.

1. Tune up lawn mower and sharpen mower blades and other gardening tools.

Regular mower maintenance will increase the life of your machine and improve its performance. Sharpening lawn mower blades as well as pruning and gardening tools will also make your job a little easier by reducing physical efforts and putting less stress on equipment.

2. Get a soil test done.

A lack of soil nutrients or components can directly impact plant performance in your lawn, flowerbeds or garden. A soil test is the only method to check for available plant nutrients, pH and organic matter. Soil testing services are provided through University of Missouri and other Extension centers for a fee.

3. Start seeds indoors for transplanting.

For annual flowers and vegetables that are commonly transplanted, try starting them yourself. The soil mix for starting seeds is important along with correct light, moisture and temperature requirements. MU Extension guide sheet 6570 "Starting Plants From Seed," is available at the nearest MU Extension office or online at extension.missouri.edu.

4. Prune fruit trees, grapes and brambles.

Pruning is a must in order to have healthy trees, vines, canes and quality fruit. As a general rule, pruning is best done while the plants are dormant around the last of February and early March, prior to bud break.

5. Clean debris from the vegetable garden area.

Remove old plants and rubble from the garden area prior to tilling or plowing. Old vines and plants are a source of disease and insects that can infect healthy garden plants.

6. Gardens may be tilled anytime, but avoid wet soils.

It is tempting to till the garden as soon as possible, but do not work the soil when it is too wet. Tilling wet soils may drastically affect soil structure and other soil characteristics. If the soil does not crumble in your hand, or sticks together, it is too wet to work.

7. Check germination of old seeds and purchase new seeds.

Seed is cheap, and in most cases Byers recommends the purchase of new seed each year, except for some of the open pollinated and heirloom varieties. Whether purchasing locally or by mail order, now is the time to place your seed orders for the upcoming growing season.

8. Replenish organic mulch materials around ornamentals.

Organic mulch material breaks down and needs to be replenished. "If needed, now is a good time to do it. A little physical labor with a scoop shovel will help get you into shape for the long gardening season ahead," said Byers.

9. Prune most ornamentals while dormant except for spring flowering shrubs.

Anytime during late winter is a good time to prune most ornamentals. However, avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs until after bloom. For more information, get a copy of Extension's guide sheet 6870, "Pruning Ornamental Shrubs."

10. Plan your work, and work the plan.

If you are planning on new landscape plantings or perennial beds, sketch the plan on paper with thought to plant selections and how they specifically fit into the scheme. "It is easier to erase a plant on paper than to dig and remove after planted in the ground," said Byers.

For more gardening information, visit the University of Missouri Extension website http://outreach.missouri.edu.

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