So ready for spring planting season

I am so ready. I don’t know about you but I am tired of being teased. One day it is cold, next warm and sunny, then damp and miserable. Patience is a virtue they say; I don’t give a hoot, I want my cake and also to be able to eat it and eat it now. I’ve browsed the catalogs, gone online and made my wish lists and now I have to break down and spend the money.


It would be interesting to know how many of you are guilty – guilty of taking a drink from the garden hose. I will be the first to admit that many times growing up I would let the water run for several minutes, waiting for it to cool down and then take a long refreshing drink. Knowing what I know now, it is a wonder that more of us aren’t walking around brain dead or severely brain damaged from lead poisoning.

It is now a law that manufacturers, as of 2007, must place a warning on their product if the hose contains lead. If you want to purchase a lead-free hose, read the label or ask for hoses that strictly state they are safe for drinking water. Hoses, from what I could find, that are drinking water safe are often white or beige with a thin blue strip. Visit a store that sells marine or RV products and you should find what you need.

No more drinking straight from the hose or watering your vegetable gardens unless you know the hose is lead-free.

A little footnote to remember when you water your plants: do not water from the top. You will encourage diseases to visit. Always water the ground, not the foliage.


Recently a call was received from a gentleman living in the Sugar Valley area of our beautiful county. Upon seeing the name, I realized I knew him and called to see what his problem was, since the only information that was given to me was a blue spruce needle-drop problem. He said it was a large spruce in his yard and was afraid he might have to have it removed.

Since spruces are susceptible to various diseases that cause needle-drop, it would be necessary to actually see what was transpiring. I was prepared to bring several samples back to the office and ship them to the pathology lab for diagnoses. Turns out he did not have needle-drop, but had branch tips littering the lawn, three- to four-inch tips which appeared to be last year’s growth. The tips that littered the lawn were green and healthy, and upon inspection showed no signs of any disease problems. I was puzzled to say the least.

Even though I drank lead-contaminated hose water as I child, I have retained some thinking ability and went to work to try to solve the mystery of the “Discarded Spruce Tips.” I thought, I looked at articles from other Extension sites throughout the country and thought some more. What do they do on TV? I have to either recreate the crime scene or at least revisit it in my mind.

Well, you know how on TV the star suddenly has a flashback and finally notices something that was not evident at the time and solves the crime? I finally discovered the mystery of the “Discarded Spruce Tips” and why it happened. The winter was a mild one and there were no reasons for certain animals to spend the winter hibernating in their tree-high nests or garden sheds. Sure enough I found my answer: red squirrels will feed on spruce buds when other food is scarce. The red squirrel will take and chew or break off the branch tip and then eat the bud. When finished, it drops the remaining tip and starts working on the next branch tip. Since the buds are small, it takes a lot to satisfy the squirrel.

Upon calling the owner, he verified that he has red squirrels and was certain one was using his outdoor building for shelter. Case solved and put in the closed file.


Peas, onion sets, cabbage and many more cool-weather plants will be more than happy if you plant them soon, if you haven’t already. While you are doing that, invest in row covers for two reasons. One, even though these are cool-weather plants, the row covers will provide some protection from a hard frost. Second, plants such as those in the cabbage family will benefit by being protected from insect pests.

As you know, Mother Nature is not always kind to her inhabitants on this earth. Being one of those inhabitants, I note that old age is slowly becoming a reality and all those aches and pains that accompany it. Fortunately for me, the interior of my body is in good health, but Mother Nature with this thing called gravity, has decided to do a number on me. As you know, I love to garden, but recently I’ve been forced to hire help, which means I have to pay the help.

Weeding is always a chore, even with mulch. This year I hope to reduce some of the weeding with the use of ground covers. I’ve come across one that loves the sun, will take dry conditions and will also handle foot traffic. A western North America native from Oregon, resembling moss, it does rather well in the eastern areas of the country. Arenaria “Wallowa Mountain” is a desert moss that is a low-growing, mat-forming ground cover that is no more than an inch in height with a spread of well over a foot. Great for those dry areas, and it is a plant that will add green color to an otherwise dull brown bed. For those of you who are thinking that by eliminating some weeding, the help will have less work and receive less pay, all I can say is I wish, but there is too much to do.


Syringa vulgaris, the Latin name for a common, been here forever and thought to be a native shrub, but originally from southeastern Europe, is so easily identified. Even blindfolded this fragrant, beautiful flowering shrub without doubt is one-hundred percent identifiable. The common lilac bush has been around for generations and with its early spring flowers is a desirable plant for pollinators. Without any intervention, the lilac can grow to well over 10 feet and almost as wide.

If left on its own, the bush can become gangly and ugly. Lilacs will benefit from regular pruning, which should be done as soon as possible after the blooms have died and before the seed heads start to develop. By removing some of the older branches or dead branches within the plant, you allow for new growth which is needed for next year’s flowers.

If the bush has gotten completely out of control and if you are willing to sacrifice next year’s blooms, the shrub can be taken down to the ground. By leaving about six inches or allowing any new growth to remain, you will allow the plant to send up all-new growth. Remember, this will result in no blooms the following year.

The leaf cutter bees will use the lilac leaves for their nests, but they will do no harm. Powdery mildew is common on many varieties, but rarely does any harm to the plant.


Pinching means to take an object tightly and sharply between finger and thumb and squeeze. You know, it’s like when that one aunt comes up to you before you can escape and with both hands grabs your cheeks and squeezes. Painful, but necessary to make her happy.

Have you gone to a greenhouse to buy plants and noticed the tips have been removed? There is a simple reason for this and that is to create a bushier plant. By removing the ends of branches, you allow the flower to develop additional growth.

All you need are your clean fingers or a clean pair of sharp scissors or pruners and to start snipping off the top or end of the branches. Be careful where you snip. Pinch off the growth slightly above the next set of leaves.

Now not all plants benefit from this procedure. Use it on flowers that you have started, some of which are coleus, dahlias, marigolds, zinnias, to name a few.

Another form of pinching is deadheading flowers before they start to set seed. This forces the plant to produce more flowers.

How many of you would ever think to harm children or pets? I certainly hope that number is zero, but I can bet that many of you are doing the unthinkable and not realizing it. Since I am running out of space, I want you to think what you may be doing to harm your children and pets. You may be surprised – or after reading over the past six or more years my ranting and raving, you know the answer. I’ll write about that next month.

It is spring which means

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!

Quentin Stocum, former Clinton County Master Gardener Coordinator, can be reached at 570-726-0022 or qbs5000@ag.psu.edu.


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