Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Extra care and attention helps establish a good garden

This is part two of a two-part story.

One thing for sure, this year I'm going to use a time-release fertilizer to give my plantings a baseline for the summer and then supplement with water soluble plant food and blossom booster weekly.  It's nearly impossible to amend our soil to 'perfect' condition. 

So, just like the multi-vitamin I take every day, the plants need supplemental nutrition to flourish. It makes a huge difference in the quality and number of blooms the plants produce later in the summer when, without proper spring and early summer nutrition, the plants begin to turn light green and leggy.

The date to remember is May 15th, the last official frost date for the Billings area. By this date, it's reasonably safe to place tender annuals and other plants outside.  But remember, last year we had snow in June! Many old timers never planted before Memorial Day.

However, there are things gardeners can be doing now.  Start by cleaning up winter mulch and removing it to the compost pile. Re-evaluate your existing landscape. Plan and prepare new beds.  Do a soil test; inexpensive DYI tests are available. Add gypsum to help amend the clay-type soils of our area, and compost to add nutrients and improve the structure of the soil. 

Use a Montana-produced compost, such as Glacier Gold Compost, to be a better 'Green' gardener. Shop locally for gardening products helps limit the impact on the environment.  Till your soil, if it's workable. 

Do you need to add new plants? Now is the best time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees.  The selection is great this time of the year. Divide or move perennials if they have not broken dormancy.  Remember the rule of thumb is "Perennials that bloom in the spring are divided in the fall".  Perennials that bloom in the summer and fall are divided in the spring. Harden off newly-purchased plants before planting. 

It is very important to use a starter fertilizer, such as Bonide Plant Starter and add compost to the planting hole.  This insures the plant gets off to a good start.

Deep water established trees, shrubs, and perennials if the ground is dry.  Feed the plants with plant-specific fertilizers. Remove mulch from around roses and give them their first feeding application of Bill's Rose Food.  (This fertilizer is also excellent for strawberries and raspberries.)

Now is the time to fertilize your trees and shrubs.  Use a slow release fertilizer that is formulated for trees and shrubs.  It is a good time to use Bonide Tree and Shrub Systemic.  This easy-to-use (no spraying) product will help prevent insect problems.  This is especially important on plants that had severe infestations last year or are prone to insect damage, such as aphids on snowball shrubs.

Get a jump start on your vegetable garden. It is safe to plant cool weather plants, radishes, carrots, beets, peas, sweet peas, lettuce, chard, onions sets, potatoes, and spinach directly in the garden.  You can also plant strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, and horseradish. I had trouble with my cucumbers last year, so this year I'm going to buy plants that have been started in the greenhouse and plant when the sun is hot and the soil is warm.  Hopefully this year, I will have a crop.  The best one I grew last year looked more like an avocado!

Begin to water your lawn if the weather is warm and dry.  Mow your lawn if you have not done so.  Check for any winter damage from snow mold.  This fungus problem is caused when the turf remains wet from snow, rain, or poor surface drainage.  Treat the lawn with Bayer Fungus Control early in early spring at the first sign of the disease. 

Protect your planting from unfriendly visitors.  Spray with Bonide Repels All, Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent, or Plantskyd to keep deer and rabbits away.  Alternating these repellents brings the best results. You will need to keep spraying the new growth for best protection.

Now that you have your 'to-do' list, enjoy the day. You can work out a lot of life's problems digging in the dirt. The fresh air and the hopeful anticipation of planting a seed is a great way to experience life!

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.