JoAnne Skelly: No, it’s not spring!

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
After all these years of gardening in Northern Nevada, I am occasionally still fooled into thinking “Maybe this year we are having an early spring.”
I know better, believe me, but these past weeks of superb weather are luring me into that false belief.
So, newcomers beware! It’s not true, no matter how nice it is — spring is NOT here yet.
There will be freezes when you least expect them, especially if you try planting warm season crops or other delicate plants. Or, in my case, the apple trees will start to bloom, I will be looking forward to a nice apple crop, and “Surprise!” a freeze just at the moment the blooms are most vulnerable. This has occurred even into June some years.
Here are some gardening activities to postpone. Wait to prune your roses until mid-April to avoid stimulating new growth that the late freeze will damage or kill.
Don’t fertilize yet, not the lawn, trees or other plants. If you fertilized the lawn last fall, you can delay the spring fertilization until May. If you didn’t fertilize in the fall, wait until late March, when you can apply half the application rate of lawn fertilizer.
What’s wrong with fertilizing a lawn too early? First, fertilizer encourages leaf or blade growth over root growth. This makes for weaker roots unable to absorb enough water once the temperatures get hot, leading to a stressed lawn mid-summer. Second, lawns over-fertilized in early spring are often more susceptible to lawn diseases.
Healthy trees and shrubs in decent soil rarely need a spring fertilization. This is true if the plants look good; if they are established; if they flower or fruit well unless deficiencies show for trees. A fall fertilization after dormancy is better. In fact, too much nitrogen can cause a flush of growth. For some trees, such as ash and flowering plum, this encourages a large aphid infestation with its ensuing drippy, sticky honeydew.
For fruit trees, a too-early boost of nitrogen with the subsequent succulent growth surge can stimulate the disease fire blight. Fire blight is highly infectious, not only in the original tree, but also in other fruit trees and Rose family plants, causing cankers, dieback and less fruit production.
Probably the best gardening activities right now are yard or garden clean up and tool maintenance. Be patient. Spring will be here before we know it.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension educator emerita for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment