The BLOG: Lifestyle

Parents know best: The keys to year-round gardening care

Helping things grow is the personal and professional privilege of the down-to-earth Parent family. For the past 23 years Paul Parent — sometimes with help from his son, Patrick — has been the nice-guy radio host of a popular, nationally syndicated show that shares tips, trends, and troubleshooting ideas about gardening.

The Paul Parent Garden Club airs 6-10 a.m. Sunday mornings on 104.9 FM or online at Green-thumbed listeners, who glove up every season in hopes of making their patch of Eden a more heavenly place, are welcome to call in and ask the pros questions about all verdant things around New England and beyond.

This week Patrick Parent, who holds degrees in horticulture, arboriculture, and urban forestry, set aside Monday morning paperwork to dish the dirt about the foundation of gardening. He says focusing on fundamentals in this drab time of year will pay off in colorful ways within a few weeks then well into next fall.

Standing in front of brightly colored seed packages, just a stone’s throw away from racks of empty flower stands, Patrick Parent began his list of “things to do” by recommending gardener’s start the first of five seasons of gardening by taking lawnmowers and leaf blowers out of sheds and garages to be professionally tuned-up at a hardware store or equipment dealer. Although this winter hasn’t been harsh, mice tend to burrow into wheel-wells and cozy into empty spaces of unused equipment to nest. Patrick says many times, over the winter season wires have been chewed by a family of mice. When the first inspiration to cut the lawn comes, motors simply won’t start. Cleaning up equipment in this first season of gardening makes the next four easier and much more enjoyable.

Green thumb rules to follow now:

Test the PH of your yard before nurseries sprout with shoppers. Soil evaluation takes about 2 weeks, and costs about $20. The simple process involves bagging up five small soil samples from the four corners and center of your yard. Analysis of a one pound, in total, sample will give an overview of which soil amendments will best support your particular growing season. Patrick recommends checking with your local garden center for sample bags or contacting UMASS at [email protected] for particulars.

Add gypsum products labeled slow release or super efficient to areas of your lawn where street salt may have been deposited over the winter. Road treatments often lead to mid-season burnout zones along the fringe of lawns as well as areas that puddle with spring rains.

Rake the lawn lightly with a spring-brace rake to clean winter debris without disturbing new growth.

Green thumb rules to mark on your gardening calendar:

When forsythias bloom~apply crabgrass control with fertilizer.

When dandelions bloom~apply broadleaf weed control with fertilizer.

When the Red Sox play their first home opener at Fenway~prune Roses (this year it’s Monday, April 11th, at 2:05 against their AL East rivals the Baltimore Orioles!)

May Day~apply 10/10/10 fertilizer to beds, lawns and containers.

Fourth of July~apply 10/10/10 fertilizer in the same areas for a mid-summer boost.

Back to School~apply 10/10/10 fertilizers to the same areas but at half the rate recommended on the packaging.

Two weeks before Halloween~ apply 10/10/10 fertilizer to the same areas for fall/winter root establishment and the promise of a greener spring!

As March comes in like a lamb, Boston-area gardeners are eager to rake up, shape up and plant up, their soils. Following rules of thumb time-tested by the Parent family will maximize how lawns, flower and veggie gardens will grow throughout the season. Sprucing up now means in a few weeks container gardens and beds will be ready for lion-faced pansies, followed by dancing stripes of chartreuse, beside yellow daffodils, and still be paying colorful dividends by the time we’re raking fall leaves from Fenway-colored lawns until the frost is on the pumpkins.