Q: Can we start planting any seeds in the garden yet?
C. K. of Belleville
A: Planting seeds can be started outside if you are planting them in an area where the soil can be worked up. But there are just a select few. For flowering plants, you can plant Shirley poppies, larkspur and snapdragon seeds. For vegetable seeds you can plant peas, parsley, onions and spinach. You can also plant lettuce but do not cover the seeds as they need light for the seeds to germinate.
Q: When can I start pruning the flowering shrubs? I know some should be pruned in the fall and others can be pruned in the spring. But I do not which ones get pruned in the spring. Help me out!
D. S. of Fairview Heights
A: There is a general rule for pruning shrubs: If they are in bloom before June 15, prune these shrubs right after they have finished blooming. If they bloom after June 15, prune them in the fall when they have finished blooming. If the stems have cracking bark, prune them back to the soil at any time, When you are pruning you can prune them back one-third of the length of the stem.
Q: This year I want to grow a few rosemary plants. I would like to use stems with my cooking. Anything special needed to grow them?
S. H. of Collinsville
A: Rosemary can be easily grown in containers. The container does not have to be fancy unless you want the fancy container. Rosemary plants can grow between two and six feet depending upon the variety that you buy; so check that out on the label. When you use a container, make sure that the water can flow out the bottom, so make sure it has a drainage hole. Then place a small piece of screen over the hole as long as it covers the hole by ¾ of an inch all the way around. Then use large stones in the bottom to keep the container upright with their weight. Above this you can place potting soil; originally rosemary grew the best in poor soil and can handle hot sunny locations as long as it is kept moist.
Q: While walking outside these past weeks I have noticed that our grass is ‘spongy’ when you walk on it. Is this normal?
B. R. of Fairview Heights
A: Well the spongy area is normal, but not healthy for your lawn as there is a thatch build up. Thatch is made up of old grass clippings, dead stems (stolons) and roots. You need to dig down in a small area to find out how deep the thatch is. If this straw colored grass parts are more than a half-inch thick, you will have to dethatch the whole area to lift and rake out the old thatch. You will need to do this in a north to south direction and follow this up in an east to west direction. You can rent a power dethatchcer to remove the thatch and part of some of the living grass to get more water moving to the grass roots.
This will also help out in controlling grass diseases which are living on this dead material. You could dethatch a cool season grass in the fall and remove the dead thatch. Then you can reseed the area to get it to fill in when the power raking is finished. For a warm season grass such as zoysia, you need to power rake in the spring. You can also check the pH of the soil and if it is below 6.0, you can add lime (25 pounds per 1,000 square feet in the spring and again in the fall).
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.