By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

If you have been storing geraniums or tuberous begonias in the basement over the winter (and good luck with that) now is the time to pot them up. Start watering and put them under lights or in a bright window to get them up and growing. Our warm, dry basements don’t have the best conditions for keeping these plants viable over winter.

Take a good look at your houseplants. Do they look like they are wearing girdles because they have grown out of their pots? If so, re-pot them now. Start with a clean pot. If it has been used before and has a crusty rim around the edge, remove it with a bit of elbow grease and vinegar. You may even have to scrape it off with a knife before you use it again. Use potting soil, not dirt, or a mix of the 2. Dirt carries all kinds of diseases and may have worm eggs or other tiny insects you really don’t want to introduce into your house.

Do the plants look like they have jaundice, yellow and droopy? They are just yelling at you because they don’t have enough nitrogen. All your house plants need fertilizer now. Either use 1/4th of the recommended dose weekly. If you use a pinch of fertilizer each time you water, you won’t have this problem. If the plants are still droopy, pull them out of the pot and take a good look at the roots. Healthy roots are white. If the roots are brown or squishy, you may have been watering them too much. Or you may discover angle worms that have been living in the pot all winter or the that soil is infested with fungus gnats and their eggs.   

Wash all the soil off the roots and remove any damaged ones then repot in fresh potting soil and remember not to drown them again. To prevent fungus gnats, cover the soil with gravel and don’t overwater.

Now that we have a spate of warm weather, get out and prune your apple and other fruit trees. Ideally, the finished tree should have enough room between branches for a bird to fly though and not touch a branch. To get at least close to that ideal, start by removing any branch that grows straight up. then remove any branch that rubs on its neighbor. Remove interior branches to increase air flow. However—do not remove more than 1/4th of the branches a year. Mentally mark the ones that need removing next winter.

If you have plums or chokecherry trees, look them over for black knot, also called scat fungus. It is called scat fungus because the branch looks like you cat crawled up and took a dump on it. Cut this fungus off a foot away from the infection. Sterilize your tool between cuts with Listerine mouth wash. It doesn’t dull the cutting edge like alcohol. Bag or burn the branches. This fungus is spread by wind and rain so be sure you have removed all of it the first time.

If you have had fire blight on apple trees or Mountain ash trees, again, cut the branch off well back to healthy wood and sterilize between cuts. This disease is difficult to remove and may well kill your tree no matter how diligent you are with removing diseased branches. Bag or burn the branches to stop the spread of the disease.

Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts. Minnesota is notorious for having blizzards well into April and snow every month but July. But we love it here.