As we begin to leave the cold behind, many of us focus on warm- weather hobbies such as fishing, golf or picnics. Don't just rush into your favorite pastime, though. A little attention to your landscape now will make it look its best this summer.
If you haven't done so already, take a soil sample from your flower bed. That will tell how much lime or fertilizer the bed needs. In the absence of a soil test, a balanced fertilizer should do well in most cases.
Be careful not to overfertilize. You may injure sensitive plants or cause them to grow too much. A slow-release fertilizer is a good option. It can better protect plants against fertilizer burn and can provide nutrition to them over a longer term.
Spring is an excellent time, too, to use your fall compost in preparing new flower beds or amending old ones. Completed compost can be tilled or hand- turned into native soils to improve conditions for future flower beds.
Use partially composted material as a top mulch around shrubs to help conserve moisture in the summer heat. Don't bother removing the old mulch unless it has become badly matted and waterlogged.
Most of your major pruning chores should be completed by now. Prune early-blooming plants such as azaleas, forsythia, hydrangea and dogwood, though, as soon as they've finished flowering. Pruning these plants now will ensure next year's crop of blooms.
Now would be a great time to add some color to your landscape, too. Our soils are warming, so many summer annuals can be planted without fear of frost. A bright bed of impatiens, geraniums, begonias or old reliable marigolds can add colorful contrast to any landscape.
Planting annuals or perennials in bands of solid blocks is a great way to add contrast to the typical background of dark green shrubs.
As a final check in your landscape, before you allow spring outdoor fever to hit, don't forget to pest-proof your landscape investment. You can't totally rid your landscape or garden of all bugs and diseases, but a little prevention now can save a lot of headaches later.
Scout your shrubs carefully now, looking for signs of insect activity. Learn to identify damaging pests as well as the beneficial ones -- there are far more good bugs than harmful ones in our landscapes.
Be sure to check the undersides of leaves while looking for problem pests. Spider mites, aphids and lace bugs love to hide under the protective covering of a leaf. You won't see them if you don't check thoroughly.
Spray registered pesticides and organic alternatives by label directions only when you're sure of the precise pest (and how many) you have.
In some cases, a small amount of insect damage may not warrant a full-scale spraying. You may kill more beneficial insects than harmful ones.
Disease problems may begin to appear as we get into warmer weather. Many of the leaf-spot diseases that appear on shrubs cause only minor cosmetic damage.
More severe problems can be a sign of trouble in the root zone. Your county extension agent can help diagnose them and suggest the right fungicide or cultural practice to use.
By spending a little time in your landscape now, you can better enjoy the great activities spring and summer have to offer.
(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)