Starting Summer Annuals

To get a head start on the summer garden, here's an idea that's practical and economical: Take some empty flats filled with a good planting mix and grow your flowers from seed. Most summer annuals, such as marigolds, ageratum and vinca, can easily be grown from seed. Two of the most popular, however--begonias and impatiens--are better grown from cuttings. If the plants in the flats become too large before there is room for them in the garden, transplant them to four-inch pots. Another advantage of growing from seed is that catalogues offer beautiful and unusual flowers that are not available in nurseries.

Check all citrus trees (and similar, frost-sensitive trees) for frost damage that may have occurred during the cold spells we experienced in January and February. Prune to remove all dead portions, cutting back to live wood. Each cut should be made flush with a major branch or the main trunk.

Citrus trees also should be fertilized about now. Use a fertilizer designed for citrus, and follow label directions carefully. If the leaves are still pale a month after a fertilizer application, the trees may be lacking in zinc, iron or manganese. Look for products that provide those nutrients; follow label instructions precisely or you may ruin foliage.

Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees after they bloom, not before. It's surprising how many gardeners prune these types of trees at the wrong time. Take the flowering peach, for example. You may read that the beginning of the year is the time to prune peaches. But that advice pertains to trees that are to bear fruit and has nothing to do with the flowers for which these types of trees are grown. After bloom, cut off all the blooming wood, and there will be no fruit to drop. Cutting back now also will encourage more new growth, which will bloom next year.

'Purple Ruffles' basil is a 1987 All-America winner. You can use its large, ruffled, purple leaves to decorate a flower border or, if you grow it in a container, to lend color to a patio. Use the fragrant, flavorful leaves in pesto and other recipes that call for basil. Most mail-order seed companies offer basil seed; transplants are sometimes available at nurseries.

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