St. Louis on the Air
3:19 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

What Does The Harsh Winter Mean For Spring Gardening? Tips From Horticulturists

After an especially harsh winter, spring has returned to St. Louis. Gardeners across the region are planting and planning for the growing season.

But the plants are still feeling the effects of the unusual cold, said Missouri Botanical Garden horticulturists June Hutson and Elizabeth Spiegel.

“It’s done its damage,” said Hutson, who is a consultant and designer for the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening. “We continue to have to monitor things to see if they’re alive or dead, it’s that critical. And so we fear that some things have really been injured and at best you’ll have to cut them down to the ground and hope they come back from the base. But other things seem unscathed, but it’s a lot of dead wood out there on everything.”

Pruned hawthorn tree branches, along with tools of the pruning trade.
Pruned hawthorn tree branches, along with tools of the pruning trade.
Credit via Flickr/Storebukkebruse

And all that dead wood means a special focus on pruning is needed. Hutson said it is best to wait and make sure branches of trees, shrubs and bushes are truly dead before pruning.

“Keep scratching [the bark] and where the green ends, that’s where it is dead and you can cut right there,” she said.

Despite the rash of extremely cold days, the spring season hasn’t been delayed by repeat frosts. That means it’s not too soon to start your planting your vegetable garden, said Spiegel. She already has peas, carrots, lettuce and beets planted. She is waiting until the night temperature stays around 55 degrees to plant her tomatoes and peppers, however.

Advice for First-Time Gardeners

One way to get a leg-up as a first-time gardener is to get your soil tested, said Hutson. That way you can find out what nutrients your soil is lacking and target your treatment accordingly. The Kemper Garden offers a soil testing service, she added. Just bring in two cups of soil in a paper bag.

Before going to the nursery, “look at your garden and see how much sunlight it gets,” said Spiegel. “Know whether the soil stays moist or dries out quickly.”

Listener Questions

Hutson and Spiegel answered numerous listener questions on how to help plants doing poorly, including azaleas, magnolias and squash. They also gave tips on the best way to handle pests ranging from cucumber beetles to lawn grubs to voles.

As chief bee keeper at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Spiegel gave advice on how to capture a swarming bee hive.

A sweet gum tree ball.
A sweet gum tree ball.
Credit via Flickr/Alan Turkus

Got a Slug Problem? Find a Sweet Gum Tree.

For all of you out there with a slug problem, Hutson suggested finding a neighbor with a sweet gum tree. Evidently it hurts slugs to crawl over sweet gum tree balls.

Related Information

Missouri Botanical Garden Hotline: 314-577-5143

For more gardening tips, including information on how to build a rain garden, visit the Kemper Center for Home Gardening website.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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