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Spring garden tips: Rake, overseed, and prune

Greetings gardeners! I’m Carol Stocker, and I may be familiar to you because I have been writing about gardening for The Boston Globe for 35 years. “Gardener’s Notebook,” my weekly column, ran from 1993 to 2005. Since then I have been doing a live Q&A chatroom for Boston.com and a blog at www.boston.com/gardenblog. I am also the author of “The Boston Globe New England Gardening Almanac” (2006), which tells you what to do each week in the garden. My single most popular feature has been a weekly reminder called “What To Do In The Garden,” which ran in the At Home Section for many years.

This space will be devoted to a new question-and-answer column. So send you gardening questions to Stockergarden@gmail.com. Please include your name or initials and your town. We will answer those of general interest in this space each week through early spring.

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While I await your questions, I will devote the rest of this column to suggestions about what you can be doing in the garden now as we launch into early spring.

CLEAN UP

Cut back the dead tops of perennials and ornamental grasses left over from last year. Rake sticks and winter debris from lawns and flower beds when the soil is not damp. A raking tip: A springy rake such as bamboo is less apt to tear the sod. Pull back mulch from perennials so it is not in direct contact with the emerging stems.

LAWN

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Don’t apply nitrogen for quick greening. It ends up washing out to local waterways where it suffocates fish by stimulating algae growth. New England lawns only need to be fertilized once a year, in the fall. Overseed your lawn to thicken your grass, taking advantage of spring rains to keep seeds moist.

PRUNING

This is a great activity if you want to work outside when the soil is still too cold and damp for digging and planting. Cut any broken or damaged branches back to where there is another branch or twig. Never leave a stump. Prune grapevines by removing about three-quarters of the new canes, which are pencil thin and light colored, but leave the older wood, which is dark with peeling bark. Prune apple trees and blueberry shrubs to allow light into their interior branches. Cut out raspberry canes that fruited last year.

Carol Stocker can be reached at Stockergarden@gmail.com.
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