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It's prime time to clean up your yard

March 11, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry, Imperial County-University of California Cooperative Extension adviser

Spring is prime time to clean up your yard. As the colder winter weather subsides, the trees, shrubs and lawn are stimulated to grow. The weather is relatively cool and conditions outside make it pleasurable to do some yard work.

One of the first things to do is to survey the damage caused by the series of winter frosts. There has been damage to some outer limbs on tender shrubs, some citrus trees have shed outer leaves exposing a few dead twigs, and the lawn has a thick layer of dead, frosted grass. You can remove all dead tissue from frost damage. Prune the trees and shrubs and mow the grass to a lower height for the first cutting in spring.

If you have dormant deciduous trees such as mulberry and ash, you need to remove excess growth and crossover branches soon. Prune before bud break, which is already starting to occur with many species.

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Also prune back any shrub that is growing too large (such as oleander, natal plum, euonymous, privet, cape honeysuckle) so that the plants may send out a new set of leaves before onset of summer. This new foliage prevents sunburn of interior leaves. Prune back bird-of-paradise bushes to encourage new growth and provide branches for new flowers.

It is time to apply nitrogen fertilizer to your lawn and trees and shrubs. Many garden centers and nurseries sell fertilizer products developed for turf or for shrubs. These are fine if label directions are followed. You can also use ammonium sulfate, a relatively inexpensive product, provided you apply it at the right dosage. Apply 2.5 to 5 pounds per 1000 square feet of lawn. Do not apply more as it may burn the lawn.

Do not "sling" the fertilizer chicken-feed style. Instead, use rapid wrist action to scatter the material uniformly. It is better to apply too little fertilizer than too much. Be sure to water the lawn to dissolve the applied ammonium sulfate the same day you spread it. Many of the special purpose turf fertilizers will not dissolve since they are coated with a plastic resin or have other slow release properties. This is normal and those products will not burn the grass.

If you choose a fertilizer with iron as an ingredient, then sweep the material off the sidewalks before watering. If left on the sidewalk, the iron will make little red rust colored streaks on the concrete.

If you are growing citrus, apply one-half pound of nitrogen scattered in the drip line of the trees. The actual amount applied depends upon the product purchased. Special citrus foods have the rate to use printed on the label. For ammonium sulfate the rate would be 2 1/2 pounds per tree. Be sure to water after application. You should not apply fertilizer when citrus is in bloom so don't procrastinate on this activity.

Some of the citrus fruit have been frost damaged and have become dried out inside. You might as well harvest it and see what is still edible. Take off all old sunburned or shriveled fruit and discard it.

There is still time to plant a spring garden. Sweet corn should be grown in large block of four rows by 20 feet to insure good pollination. Cucumbers grow fast and will make a good addition to any salad or as an appetizer with dips. Squash are naturals for the garden. Tomatoes will produce before the heat sets in if you hurry and get some started. Green beans grow fairly well as the weather warms, but beans suffer from many insects and a few plant diseases. If you can stand having a few cosmetic defects on your bean pods, then give them a try.

For those with Southern-style taste buds, it is time to start a patch of okra. My grandmother used to call it "Okree" and it sure was a good treat when fried up along with some of her Texas fried chicken.

It is too late for broccoli, cauliflower and head lettuce. Carrots planted this late may be tough and woody and develop an off flavor. Leaf lettuce and spinach may make it but it would be best to plant thick and

harvest as bunched greens.

There are some kinds of flowers that will grow if planted during the next month or so. They include: blue lace flower, calliopsis, celosia (cockscomb), cosmos, four o'clock, gaillardia, hollyhocks, kochia, nasturtium, petunia, salvia, sunflower, vinca, and zinnia.

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