University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article


Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
Planting potatoes in large tubs or pots, removing strawberry mulch, and dividing rhubarb are some of the gardening activities for this month.

If you don't have room to plant potatoes in the garden, try planting them in tubs or large pots. Using chicken wire or wire mesh, fashion a cylinder that's about 3 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter and place it over a tilled bed. Place a layer of hay along the inside walls of the cage, then add a 2- to 3-inch layer of rich garden soil and plant 4 potato tubers. Cover the tubers with more soil. As they grow, continue lining the inner edge of the cage with hay and covering the young sprouts with soil until you reach the top of the cage. Keep the plants well watered and harvest when the vines naturally die back.

Another method is to buy one of the relatively new black potato bags—a heavyweight fabric bag that is somewhat porous, and holds about 15 gallons of soil.  Fill it about a third full of soil mixed with compost, then gently press the seed potatoes in near the top.  If large potatoes, cut them in half or pieces such that each one has at least 2 or 3 healthy emerging shoots or “eyes”.  Then once the plants begin to grow, add more soil until the bag is eventually about full.  Start your potatoes indoors now in a bright, somewhat warm location, then move them outside later in spring after frosts.  This way you can harvest potatoes by mid-summer.

Check strawberry plants twice a week for signs of new growth. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the hay or straw mulch and spread it in the rows to help control weeds. A topdressing of an inch or two of compost will give plants a boost.

If your rhubarb plants seem crowded, plan to divide them as soon as the ground thaws. Choose a cloudy, cool day, dig up the whole crown, and break off the young side shoots, trying to keep as many roots intact as possible. Transplant the mother plant back in the original hole amended with a shovelful of compost, and plant the babies in a full sun location. Harvest the young plants lightly, if at all, the first year.

Don't rush into the garden to till; wait until the soil has a chance to dry out. Tilling too early can cause soil compaction and poor growth later in the season. To know when to till, do a squeeze test: grab a handful of garden soil and squeeze it -- if it drips like a sponge it's too wet to till.  It should form a ball in your hand, then crumble when lightly squeezed.

Spray horticultural oil on fruit trees such as apples, plums and cherry to smoother any overwintering insects. Choose a calm day when temperatures are above 40 degrees (F), and be sure to cover all sides of the branches. You can also apply it to evergreens to control spider mites and other insects -- carefully follow the instructions on the label for proper usage and appropriate plants.

Once the snow melts you may start to see browning damage on lawns from road salt. To help flush the salt from the soil, water the lawn near roads and walkways several times, especially during dry periods. This will help move the salt down into the subsoil. Once this salt is removed, then you can begin to prepare the thin spots in the lawn for reseeding. 

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