Spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, but we did gain more than an extra hour of daylight last month. Sure, it’s cold and sometimes wet outside, but when has that stopped an avid gardener from trying to get a head start on the season?
It’s a challenge to plant anything right now, but there are lots of other ways to feed your green thumb besides getting your knees dirty.
Make a plan
Making changes to your garden plan this year? Get your plan on paper as soon as possible. If you need inspiration, check out Pinterest, Fine Gardening or Gardenologist. Make a list of that you’ll buy when the season begins. Try to choose native trees and shrubs; they’re adapted to our climate, and therefore require less water and maintenance.
Once you know what you want to plant, figure out where you’ll plant. Put your plan to scale on graph paper, making note of the square footage of each bed. This plan will not only help you determine your planting scheme but will also make calculating topsoil and amendments easier, too.
Get your tools and equipment ready for spring
Now is the time to clean up your garden how, spades, and shovels. Scrape of last year’s residue with a wire brush and rinse well. When they’re dry, squirt a little WD-40® onto a rag and wipe down the face of each tool to help ward off rust. If they’re already rusty, sock in a bucket of white vinegar for two to three hours, rinse, and then apply the WD-40®. Light sand splinters from wood handles and rub with linseed oil.
Check the blades of cutting equipment like pruners and saws. Rubbing alcohol can cure sticky blades – just be careful if the blades are sharp. If they’re not sharp, use a whetstone or file to sharpen them or take them to a professional. You can find sharpening services at some Ace Hardware stores, and you will find sharpening kits at Home Depot.
Gardening season means lawn care season, so take this time to also get your mower, tiller, and edger in top shape. The experts at Troy-Bilt, in fact, recommend that you give your equipment a tune up at least once a year. Clean the body, then change the oil and sharpen the blades. Make sure bolts and screws are tight, and you’re ready to go.
Prepare planting pots
Planning to use last year’s containers? Whether you’re buying existing plants or starting from seed, your flowerpots need to be cleaned up and disinfected.
Dump out the old soil and use a wire brush to remove caked on fertilizer salts, roots, and soil. Wash each in warm, soapy water and rinse. Next, let the pots soak for 15 minutes in a solution of one part household bleach and nine parts water. Rinse again and allow to dry.
Yes, you can prune some plants
Some popular flowering trees and shrubs need to be pruned in cold weather to avoid disease. But, you shouldn’t prune when the weather is damp. “Absolutely, do not prune if it’s wet out, it spreads a lot of diseases,” cautions horticulturist April Johnson. “Wait until the sun’s out for a little while; it dries out and kills mold and bacteria.”
Apple trees, oaks, flowering crabapples, and honeylocust will need to be pruned when the conditions are right. Thin out any branches that cross over one another; this avoids raw bark when they rub together. Then, move on to thinning out crowded spots so that sunlight can penetrate and air can circulate. This will create conditions that are inhospitable to many disease organisms. Make the cut just above the swollen area where the branch joins another branch or the trunk (the branch collar).,
Be brutal with older shrubs that didn’t perform well last season. Cut it down to within 6 inches of the soil. The University of Minnesota calls this “chain saw pruning” and promises the shrub will fill out quickly and perform better when the weather warms.
Check the compost pile
“Even in winter, a compost pile is alive, an ecosystem in flux,” claims Genevieve Slocum at RodalesOrganicLife.com. She recommends that you continue to “feed” your compost pile with kitchen scraps, such as vegetable peelings, coffee grinds, and eggshells; throw in some shredded newspaper, manure from chickens or rabbits if you raise them or blood meal if you don’t. Add fallen leaves, straw, and anything else that’s organic that you find in the garden. To help speed up decomposition, shred or chop everything into 2-inch or smaller pieces.
While composting in warmer temperatures involves merely throwing everything onto a pile, Slocum recommends that here at the tail-end of winter we should create 2- to 4-inch layers of “green” items (kitchen scraps, etc.) and cover them with 5- to 7-inch layers of the “brown” items (newspaper, hay, dead leaves, etc.). Keep repeating the process until your compost pile is to the height you desire.
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