Marianne Ophardt

Don't forget that it's still winter - go slowly in your yard

When the temperatures climb above 50 degrees, gardeners are anxious to get out in the garden.

However, our eagerness must be tempered with the realization that it's still winter. Spring isn't here quite yet.

Nevertheless, there are a few things gardeners can do.

Things may be dry

Even though we have had a fairly wet winter, things may not be as moist as you think. A recent check of the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden compost pile built in the fall revealed that it's very dry under the top layer. When a compost pile is dry, the bacteria, fungi and little critters that are part of the decay process can't do their job of breaking down the organic matter.

Check out your pile and add water if it's dry. Be sure to "turn" or mix the compost while adding water until all the materials are moist. The soil in your yard may be fairly dry too. Dig several inches and check. If dry, you will want to water evergreen trees and shrubs right away.

Pruning

If you have fruit trees that need pruning, now is a great time to get out the mind and pruning saws. If you are unsure of how to prune your trees to keep them productive and small enough to manage, refer to the Pacific Northwest Extension bulletin "Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard" at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw400.

If your ornamental landscape trees need pruning, it's also a good time to prune them. Keep in mind that ornamental trees should be pruned only for very specific reasons -- health, safety and beauty. Diseased or borer infested-wood can be removed at any time. Hazardous branches or limbs that might fall should be removed, as well as branches that interfere with utility lines or views of traffic. (Beware: Branches encroaching utility lines should always be pruned by professionals.)

A poorly shaped tree may benefit from pruning to correct its form. If you aren't sure how to prune a tree, you may want to hire a pro, especially if the tree is big.

If you have roses, you may be tempted to prune them now too, but local rose experts say to wait until the yellow flowering shrub forsythia is in bloom.

Dormant disease control

I recently saw a list of late winter chores and it said "late winter is the time to apply dormant oil for control of insects and diseases." Wrong! Oils are applied to control insects that overwinter on the bark of trees. These are most effective when applied just when the buds start to open. That's because the insects are just becoming active at that time. Applied too early, the oils won't be effective and some oils can damage plants when temperatures go below freezing soon after the product is applied.

Dormant fungicides are applied now to fruit tree s when the buds are just beginning to swell for control of overwintering diseases, such as coryneum blight on apricots and peach leaf curl on peaches. For what materials to use and when to apply them, check out http://treefruit.yakima.wsu.edu/MG/mgindex.html.

Planter color

Time to get rid of the winter-worn flowering cabbage, kale and pansies in your containers. Replace them with colorful primroses and new pansies for some fresh color.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Extension Office in Benton County. Read more of Ophardt's Garden Tips columns at www.tricityhomeandgarden.com/hg/ophardt.

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