Hold up there, spring gardeners: It’s not spring yet

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I was in a store recently and they had all these boxes that had small perennial plant root starts inside. I bought some.  I thought that they were just roots but when I got home and took out the plastic bag, there were plant leaves pressing on the inside of the bag. Should I just refrigerate these until May and I can put them in the garden?

If you refrigerate these small sprouting plants, they will be brown, slimy organic matter that you can squeeze out of the bags like toothpaste in May.

Here’s the problem: These little, cute, perennial roots were shipped to the stores as cute, dormant roots. The stores are warm and there is some moisture in the bags.  Then, the miracle of life begins and the plants begin producing leaves. For them, spring has arrived and it’s time to grow.  Trapped in the bag with no soil or light and high humidity, it’s a recipe for catastrophic plant failure.  

Once the first leaves have grown, it’s too late to put the box somewhere cool and hope for suspended animation.  You are left with exactly one option. Buy some potting mix for indoor plants and some small pots. Pot your little plants up and invite them to play houseplants for another six to eight weeks. Place them on sunny windowsills and keep them watered. They will reward you with small plants to put into your garden when all danger of frost has passed.

That’s better than brown, organic toothpaste.

It has been so warm that I want to put on lawn fertilizer now.  The grass is starting to get green.  I see some landscapers putting fertilizer on lawns right now.  What do they know that I don’t?

The landscapers know that they have to get started early with some of their clients or they won’t finish on time or they have been told by their client that they want their lawn fertilized immediately.  They are working from business knowledge, not insider lawn secrets.

Fertilizer makes grass grow even faster and it may be possible to mow three times in a week under ideal growing conditions. The usual time that most people put on their first fertilizer application is around Memorial Day. If the lawn is in good condition, it has been growing happily on its own. The lawn will be growing as fast as it can in the spring and again in the fall. The hot summer is a time for coasting.  

The problem with fertilizing in March is that your lawn is not going to benefit from what you have put down. Nitrogen, which is the biggest part of lawn fertilizer, is water soluble. The first torrential rain in March or April will send your application away to the ditch or to your neighbor’s lawn.

Grasses may be greening now but really have not begun growing.  Don’t let the first warm weather lure you into doing something that is not going to be beneficial to the lawn or your wallet. 

If you plan on fertilizing three times during the growing season, it may be possible to follow the “holiday plan.” That involves fertilizing on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans’ Day.

It is important to know that you can no longer buy lawn fertilizer with phosphorus in it. Jan. 1 of this year, the Michigan Legislature passed a law that stops phosphorus being applied to lawns. There are exceptions. like a new lawn or one that has had a soil test that indicates that it is needed. This is to protect surface and groundwater from contamination. Consider this the simple, basic plan and you can adjust this to your needs.  

Don’t be fooled by this tiny taste of spring. It will be withdrawn and a true Michigan spring will return soon.

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles

Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.