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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

If you want to start your garden right, learn what your soil needs for plants to thrive

Why are you so hesitant to have your soil tested?     Now that spring is here, interest in gardening is on the rise. No matter where I go, people approach me with gardening problems. Most are directly associated with nutrient deficiencies in their soils.

If I can leave my garden long enough to launch my boats

The Bay Gardener has difficulty deciding which is more relaxing, spending days in the garden, spending hours sailing his 24-foot MacGregor swing-keel boat, building boats or resurrecting an old boat or tractor.

Spray horticultural oil now to control them

The mild winter is likely to be followed by early invasions of scale insects, spider mites and other bugs that over-winter in the cracks and crevices on the bark of trees and shrubs. Roses, Alberta spruce, blue spruce and roses are the most susceptible species for spider mites. Scale insects will attack euonymus, crab apple, cherries including cherry laurel, oak and pine. Wax scale insects especially like hollies.

But it takes science for it to work

Gardening is the most popular of all hobbies. In addition to giving you hours of relaxation, it is good exercise. Gardening forces you to go outside, bringing you closer to nature. Whether you are growing vegetables, flowers or woody plants, gardening provides great satisfaction.     Dorothy Frances Gurney says it all:     The kiss of the sun for pardon;     The song of the birds for mirth;

Prune hard, now!

A Bay Weekly reader lamented over how tall her azaleas had grown. She could no longer see out of the living room windows and would have to pay to have them replaced. I told her that all she had to do was cut them back to at least two inches below the ledge of the window. The plants would rejuvenate. The expression on her face clearly indicated that she thought me a complete idiot.

Cut before month’s end so you have plenty of fruit to pick later

If you want your high-bush blueberry plants to produce the giant fruit photographed and described in nursery catalogs, then you have to prune them severely. If the plants are not pruned yearly, before April, you’ll get clusters of small berries that are a chore to pick.

Read this before you start cutting

What should I prune when? is one of the most common questions I am asked.     I answer that we prune for quality — with exceptions.

Snatch branches from pussy willows and flowering shrubs

Pussy willows are busting out all over. Forsythia buds are starting to swell as are flowering quince, cherries, almond, weigela and crab apples.     Cut those pussy willows ASAP and tie them in small bunches. Then hang them upside down in a darkened shed or garage so they will dry straight. If you dry them standing, the catkins will bend outward and separate from the stems more easily. Do not put the stems of fresh-cut pussy willow in water.

Prune blackberries and ­raspberries; mulch strawberries

With the weather cool but comfortable to work outside, the time is right to prune both blackberries and raspberries.

Consider your space as you plan your vegetable garden

For the best harvest, plan before you plant. Crowded plants that have to compete for light do not produce a good crop and often have disease and insect problems. Here’s how I plant my garden to give each plant the best chance.     Sweet corn should be planted in blocks, not single rows. Four to five short rows of sweet corn sown six to eight inches apart in two-foot-wide rows will produce higher quality ears due to better pollination.