Calendar says it's time to begin spring chores

By Rebecca Jepsen
for the Mercury News
03/01/2008

The first day of spring is March 20, and it does look like spring is almost here. The daffodils are blooming, trees are budding and lawns are turning greener.

As always, with spring comes spring cleaning. If you didn't have a chance to pick up all those broken limbs and branches, or if the recent storm brought additional damage, now is the time to gather those up and add them to your compost pile.

Prune spring flowering shrubs and perennials only after they have started to bloom. Also, make sure you empty any standing water from containers, buckets and saucers so as not to provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This is also the time to flush out your irrigation systems. Check and replace any broken valves and emitters.

Most perennial plants benefit from division; it helps maintain healthy annual flowering. It is also an easy and inexpensive way to extend the garden with some of your ''tried and true'' favorites. Division is a method of propagation whereby an existing plant is dug up (in its dormant state), divided and then each section is individually replanted. Early spring is a good time to divide some of our summer and fall blooming perennials such as chrysanthemums, campanula, liatris and penstemon.

To divide these perennials, dig around the existing plant and lift it out of the ground. Be careful not to damage the roots. Shake off loose soil and remove the dead leaves and stems. Use your hands, a garden fork or spade to separate the plant. If the center clump is weak or overly woody, discard it. You will want to replant only the young, vigorous sections that have several new shoots.

Dig your new holes twice as wide as the sections you are going to plant. You should plant at the same depth as the original plant. If you are planting in unconditioned, native soil, mix in compost equaling one-third of the amount of the soil you removed. Water thoroughly and add a three- to four-inch layer of mulch around your new plants, keeping the mulch at least six inches away from the stem of the plant.

Q: When is the best time to plant dwarf citrus trees and which ones do you recommend?

A: Although citrus can be planted most of the year, early spring is preferable. Planting in the spring allows the tree's roots to become established before they are subjected to cold weather and the danger of frost. A few low maintenance, prolific fruiting varieties are: Improved Meyer lemon, Bearss lime and Satsuma mandarin. For a list of recommend citrus for Santa Clara County, go to: www.mastergardeners.org/picks/citrus.html.