Serving the Loup Valley for 137 Years

Spring Tips From A Master Gardener

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Kate Wolf photo

Master Gardener Linda Markvicka enjoys being out in her yard and sharing her knowledge with others.

By Kate Wolf

   Spring has officially sprung and gardeners everywhere are chomping at the bit to get outside and get their hands dirty. They’ve been salivating over seed catalogues for many weeks, drawing out intricately sketched plans for garden plots and landscaping, checking their hoses and tools, rounding up gardening gloves and impatiently waiting like racehorses at the gate to get outside and get busy. But where do you start?

   Linda Markvicka of North Loup is a certified Master Gardener. How does one achieve such a designation, you may wonder. You have to go back to school and take a Master Gardener class.

   Markvicka began her studies a long time ago in Omaha and finished up in Grand Island in 1995. It’s a three week highly intensive class from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., often every day, but occasionally three times a week, depending on the instructors involved. Some instructors are horticulture teachers from the University of Nebraska, some from the popular gardening program “Backyard Farmer”, as well as others covering various specialties. Even commercial gardens and greenhouses send their employees for certification. There is a lot of paperwork involved, too. In order to pass, you must volunteer for a specific project, much like doing a clinical rotation in med school.

   “I helped to get new grape growers established,” Markvicka commented. “I also served on an open problem solving helpline for gardeners who had questions. Of course, now all of that information is available online through a simple search application.” Once you successfully complete all of these requirements, you receive a certificate proclaiming your hard earned status as a Master Gardener.

“You find out why things happen – the problem of the week or the bug of the week. And you have to stay up-to-date on chemicals because they change a lot.”

   Achieving her Master Gardener certification was the culmination of a lifetime of gardening. “I’ve worked in a garden since I was very small,” Markvicka explained. “But I was told what to do. Grandma and Grandpa Wetzel had 80 acres of garden in a truck farm that supplied local markets around North Loup. Can you imagine gardening 80 acres?” The very thought is exhausting.

   “It wasn’t until late in life that I began gardening on my own,” she continued. Her husband, Hank “Doc” Markvicka, was in the military, which required them to travel extensively and gave Linda the opportunity to study many different types of magnificent gardens, some of them centuries old. “They used natural fertilizer, made their own mulch and never threw anything away,” Markvicka remarked. She creates her own compost in a special area created out of pallets that’s hinged on one side for easy access whenever the compost needs to be “turned”. But she never uses animal products because it can become rancid and adversely affect the soil. She recommends doing a lot of the work in the fall such as pruning and clearing out various beds. “That way, if you have a late spring, you’re not so far behind and it allows you to make changes without a lot of debris around,” she explained.

   Carl Buller of Hilltop Gardens in Scotia agrees, although some tasks must be accomplished in the spring. “This is the time to put a pre-emergent on your beds and refresh the mulch. Check your drip emitters to make sure they’re in good working order. Take a look at your shrubs and shape them up. Prune off dead growth in shrubs and make sure no branches are growing into each other,” Buller advised. ‘’This also applies to rose bushes which should be pruned above the bud leaving at least 12” of growth at the base. Firsteditionsplants.com has some good videos on pruning.” According to Buller, you also need a good fertilizer such as Fertilome Tree and Shrub that contains micro-nutrients to help balance the PH of the soil. Ornamental grasses should also be cut back now.

   Markvicka has a handy little hack for that task. She separates the grasses into clumps, wraps them with duct tape and cuts them off below the tape. It’s a no mess, no fuss, easy cleanup.

   So what does a Master Gardener’s yard look like? Markvicka’s lawn is thick, lush and green already. A carpet so dense you immediately want to remove your shoes and run through it with bare feet. Her vegetable garden area is vast and impeccably clean. Scattered all around are interesting landscaped areas which include antiques repurposed as rustic planters, as well as other features seemingly placed at random but you can tell it has all been carefully planned. It’s obvious, even this early in the season, that she spends a lot of time out there and that it’s a labor of love. I struggle to tamp down the envy and disguise the fact that I am here to pick her brain. How on earth do you achieve such a lawn?

   Tyler Collier, of Collier’s Lawn Care and Landscaping advises, “Most lawns need a good spring cleanup now. If thatch levels are high, power raking could be recommended. If the yard has compaction issues, plugging would be recommended. As soil temperatures rise, a fertilizer with a permanent is recommended generally around the third week of April into the first part of May.”

   And, Markvicka adds, “Don’t cut your lawn too short. You don’t need to scalp it!” She uses a herbicide in the fall to control dandelions and applies a general weed and feed in the spring, summer and fall.

   Since the early 1990s, Markvicka has served as judge for the Annual Popcorn Days Ag Display in North Loup. (A post formerly held for many years by Floyd and Delores Thompson.) Assisting her in this monumental task is Dennis Linke, Twyla Hawks and Claudia Morgan, all of North Loup. She has also been North Loup’s volunteer librarian for the past 20 years and writes grants to help with that cause.

TIPS FROM A MASTER GARDENER:

   *Draw up a plan every year and rotate your crops

   *Use a 12-12-12 fertilizer on your garden as well as flowers

   *Miracle Grow diluted in a watering can on individual plants but don’t over-do it on tomatoes as it will help the foliage but not the yield.

   *All plants and trees have “companions” they love to live around, and others, not so much. Google “Companion Plants” and do your homework.

   *Bascillus Thurmgieneis diluted in water will not hurt you but it will keep those pesky little white cabbage butterflies at bay.

   *Know the zone you live in. This is very important due to frost dates. We are in zone 4-5.

   *Buy good seeds. Mark the packet with the year purchased.

   *Keep records of what you have learned each year while gardening. It will help you avoid making the same mistakes.

   *Never spray insecticides in the morning because you will kill beneficial insects and pollinators. Add a little dish soap as a surfactant to make it adhere better.

   *Don’t over-do the fertilizer!

   *When tomatoes or other vegetables are ripe, harvest them as soon as possible.

   *Black landscape fabric to keep beds clean and at least four inches of “No Float” Cypress Mulch to dress them up and prevent weed germination.

   *Black heavy soil should be tilled in the fall. Do not add sand as this will only cause it to “tighten up” even more.

   *When cleaning beds be careful not to disturb what’s already growing there.

   *For gardens, select a site with at least six hours or more of sunlight.

   *You may want to purchase a soil test kit to find out what needs to be added.

   “Most of all, remember to enjoy the process! If you plan ahead you’ll be more successful. And if you have extra vegetables, share them with someone who can use them. That’s part of the fun!”

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