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Raised beds can help when you have poor soil
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Question: I have poor soil in my planting area. I would like to plant a vegetable garden in late April and I would like to know what I need to do to amend it?

Answer: The answer lies directly in the fact that you must have good soil to start your garden.

Compaction, drainage problems, acid or alkaline soil all will have significant effects on your plants or veggies ability to take up nutrients. First, have a soil test done. This will determine your pH. Most vegetables grow best in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Determine your pH to see if it needs to be lowered or raised.

A fast fix is to mix in compost and other organic matter (shredded leaves, etc.). This will loosen compacted soil. Do this in early spring and keep adding to it all through the growing season. Organic matter will also help the soil drain efficiently.

Mix in 2 to 3 inches of compost or decomposed leaves. The mixture will hold nutrients and keep them from draining out too quickly. In compacted soil, the plant roots can't take in oxygen so it is vital that organic material be added.

If possible, build raised beds. This takes care of all of the many problems we Georgians have with our clay soils. Crops produce better in deep, loose fertile soil. Mix in topsoil, organic matter and mineral amendments and build from the ground level.

It is better to frame your beds with wood, brick or concrete blocks. Choose rot resistant types of wood such as cedar or locust.

Q: What are some of the late winter/early spring blooming plants that color up the landscape before our warmer days appear?

A: One of my absolute favorites is the native witch hazel. In late winter, you will see this early bloomer display tiny, confetti like flowers in many colors ranging from yellow to bronze to burgundy.

They dish out a dose of color just when you need it the most. When most everything is still dormant, this plant stands alone in the still muted landscape of winter.

The Chinese witch hazel has beautiful yellow leaves and can grow up to 30 feet. The "Ruby Glo" has beautiful ruby red blooms. They all display beautiful fall color as well. Plant them in early spring against a backdrop of evergreen trees or shrubs. They also have a fragrant smell so you might want them near a walkway.

Another early bloomer is the flowering quince. The bloom starts on a budded stem with no leaves and burst into color ranging from white blossoms to tomato red. Some will start as early as January, but most show off in late February. They are deer tolerant and easy to grow. Its only requirements are sun and well-drained soil. Their stems can be brought indoors for floral arrangements.

Also, don't forget forsythias and Camellias for color in your landscapes.

March gardening tips

Remove fallen, diseased leaves from your shrubs prior to new growth in the spring. This will reduce a possible hidden source of fungal spores that could create new disease.

Now is a good time to cut back mondo grass and Liriope.

Feed early bloomers such as azaleas, Camellia and Rhododendron after they bloom.

Apply pre-emergents to lawns to prevent warm season weeds such as crabgrass.

Prune back lantana and butterfly bush.

Fertilize spring flowering bulbs now with two cups of bone meal per ten square feet.

Once all of the daffodils have bloomed, wait until the foliage falls to the ground and has yellowed to cut back. The bulbs need the foliage to produce and store nutrients.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.

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