Start now for great spring yards and gardens

While there is more snow to come and nary a bloom peeping out of the ground, it isn’t stopping area residents from gazing dreamily out of their windows with big plans for their gardens and spring landscaping. Natalie Aiello, the Elk-Cameron County 4-H/Youth Extension Educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Extension's Master Gardener Coordinator for Elk County, said there are a number of things people can do now to prepare for the planting season. "The first thing people should do is get their soil checked," Aiello said. "The kits test the different level of nutrients in your soil." She said most people buy the most common fertilizer mix, which is 10-10-10 (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium), but that is not always the best mix for their soil. "People who are not familiar or beginning gardeners will buy the 10-10-10 and put the nutrients in and think that will help. But what they need to realize is 1) that might not be the amount of the actual nutrients they need and 2) too much of a good thing can be too much sometimes," Aiello said. "If you test your soil, it might tell you, 'hey, I don't need any fertilizer this year.'" Aiello said mistakes can also be made with other soil additives. "A lot of other people will also add lime every year to increase calcium, but they can overdo that, too," Aiello said. "Those soil tests will let them know exactly what they need to add to the soil instead of just guessing."She said desired soil composition also depends on what is being planted. "Some things like a more acidic soil; some things like a more basic soil. The soil test kits will also let you choose what kinds of crops you're planting so they will tell you exactly how to modify to get the crops that you want," Aiello said. "The best time is to do it now because if your soil needs amended, it's better to add the nutrients to the soil and let it sit for at least a couple weeks before you start planting. You want to till it right into the soil. You could even do it before the last freeze." Aiello said a variety of things can be planted now, even though more snow and frost is likely. "Cool-season crops can be peas, a lot of lettuces, potatoes can go in early, onions can go in early, garlic can go in early. A cool-season crop can go in before a frost," Aiello said. "Some of those things can be planted in March or April before the last freeze is over. It actually helps them because it can help break apart the seed coat."Aiello said when starting plants from seed, it's important to check the back of the packet to see when they should be planted and note the area's growing season. "The general rule here is that it's good to wait until the end of May to plant. [The growing season] is normally sometime after Mother's Day until after the first freeze in the fall, sometime in October or November," Aiello said.