Preparing Your Garden

How does your garden grow?

As winter comes to an end, most gardeners start itching to get back out in the yard and start their spring gardens. Unless you live in a mild climate though, chances are your garden is still too wet and cold to work. As a result, January through March are ideal months for planning, ordering seed, and starting plants indoors to be ready the instant they can jump into the growing season. Work back six weeks from the last frost date in your area (around Mothers Day)to develop a timeline. The following list will help you get started before you set out a single plant.

  • Shop for seeds early for best selection.

  • Buy a soil test kit or have soil tested. County extension services can recommend labs to have your soil tested. Healthy soil is essential to a productive plant, so it pays to test especially if your results were unimpressive last year. Call to find out what you need to do and how long it will take, then plan accordingly.

  • Check shrubs and woody plants. What needs pruning? For early spring bloomers like forsythia, prune promptly after flowering is complete.

  • Fruit trees need to be pruned before they begin to blossom if you didn't get to it while the trees were dormant. If they blossom, it's best to wait until winter rolls around again. (It's okay to prune dead wood.)

  • Do you have a lot of perennials? Do any of them need to be moved? Spring is the time to transplant divisions or move plants around. If you have friends who are gardeners, it's a good time to arrange trades.

  • Check your tools. Clean and sharpen blades on hand tools. While you're at it, organize the garden shed. Clean, sterilize, and organize terracotta pots, planters, and starter trays. Sterilize using a bleach and water solution of 1 part bleach to ten parts water. Rinse thoroughly, then dry. (Remember to do this in the fall so you don't have to do it when it's still cold outside.)

  • Provide or build gardening supports for peonies, tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash. Supporting flowers with heavy heads prevents breakage. Growing vegetables vertically saves space and prevents bugs and slugs from noshing on your veggies.

  • Sow seeds in starter trays according to package instructions and the last frost date for your area.

  • Remove all plant residue and mulch to expose soil to sunshine for earlier soil warm up and dry down in the spring.

  • Kill any early growing grasses or unwanted plants by smothering with compost or other methods or by spraying with a selective herbicide if you are not growing organically. Smothering weeds early as they emerge will save you allot of weeding later in the season and/or sore knees and back!

Above all, don't get anxious and start working in the garden too early. The soil needs to be damp but not soggy or sticky. If you take a handful of soil and make a ball, it should fall apart easily when you open your hand. Also, setting out plants prematurely often results in discouraging losses. Planning and getting ready to go saves time and money you'll want to spend on cool new plants and tools.