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Master Gardener Sue Morris: Time to clean garden tools, harden off plants started indoors

Garden tools should be cleaned up now if that was not done last fall. Pots for annual flowers should have new soil each year, and the old soil can be worked into the garden. And soil tests aren't a bad idea either. Local Extension offices can help. It's also time to start hardening off any plant started indoors.

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If you didn’t clean up your garden tools last fall, this is something that needs attention now.

Many plant pathogens can survive from one season to the next on tools, trellises, stakes and pots that were used last year.

These can be cleaned using a 10% bleach/water solution — one part bleach and nine parts water. Dip or spray tools with this solution. This will kill fungi, bacteria and viruses almost immediately.

Bleach is corrosive to metal so it might not be a good choice for pruners or other cutting tools that require a sharp edge.

Lysol will eliminate bacteria, fungi and viruses. Do not dilute with water. This is not corrosive to metal so is good to use on pruners and cutting tools.

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Rubbing alcohol is not an effective disinfectant for bacterial diseases, such as fire blight in apples.

We like to have different types of planters of annual flowers to brighten up outside our homes every year. It’s a good idea to use new soil in the pots each year. You can dump out old soil into your garden when you till. Since pots are watered so frequently during the growing year, a lot of the nutrients are leached out.

There are a number of time-release fertilizers on the market that can be mixed into the soil when planting the pots. You can also buy a polymer product to add to the soil. This is similar to what is used in disposable diapers to absorb moisture. It is advertised as something that will aid in less watering of your plants. Potting mix with the fertilizer already added is also available.

 Homegrown tomato plant seedlings in plastic pots on a wooden background.
Seedlings started indoors, such as these tomatoes, need to be hardened off outdoors. Start by putting them outside in the shade for a couple hours a day and gradually increase the time outdoors and into the sun. The same process should be followed if plants were purchased from a greenhouse.
JulijaDmitrijeva / Getty Images / iStock photo

If you started seeds indoors, now is a good time to start hardening them off outdoors. Start by putting them outside in the shade for a couple hours a day and gradually increase the time outdoors and into the sun. If you purchased plants at a garden center that were inside a greenhouse, these should be hardened off the same way.

Years ago, when Walls O’ Water were first introduced, I planted my tomato plants in them directly in the garden and skipped the hardening off process. During the day the sun warmed the water inside the cells of the Walls O’ Water and protected the plants from colder evening temperatures and also from the wind and other elements. I was able to put out tomatoes three weeks earlier than recommended and get ripe tomatoes sooner.

I don’t know if they are still on the market. Mine are now safely stored in the shed as I’ve gotten lazy about using them.

How long has it been since you took a soil test in your garden? Envelopes are available at the local Extension Office. The University of Minnesota's Soil Lab can perform a basic soil test. For complete instructions on how to do a soil test, information is available on the Extension web site. This test will provide recommendations for fertilizer based on the results of the soil test. This way you aren’t wasting money on the wrong fertilizers. You can take a soil test any time of year but spring and fall are the best times.

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Master Gardener Sue Morris has been writing this column since 1991 for Kandiyohi County newspapers. Morris has been certified through the University of Minnesota as a gardening and horticulture expert since 1983. She lives in Kandiyohi County. To consult with a Master Gardener, call your county Extension office.

Master Gardener Sue Morris has been writing a column since 1991 for Kandiyohi County newspapers. Morris has been certified through the University of Minnesota as a gardening and horticulture expert since 1983. She lives in Kandiyohi County.
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