Back in the eastern U.S. a groundhog tells them when it’s mid-winter. Here in San Diego it’s the Santa Anas. Cool, dry air in the Great Basin pushes warm air south and west giving us a week or so of sunshine and daytime temperatures in the 70s, sometimes low 80’s. It’s supposed to reach a high of 78° today.
The weather doesn’t last. After mid-winter is when we get the big Pacific storms followed by the night time freezes. Not exactly great growing weather, but this fake spring is a seasonal reminder of the garden housekeeping and maintenance that you need to do before spring really does arrive in a few weeks. If you’re in a similar warm(ish) climate zone (USDA 7B – 10), here are a few things you could be doing:
1) Inventory seedsIf you collect seed from the garden at harvest or hang on to seed packets you didn’t use up last year, now is a good time to take inventory. That way when you’re going through the seed catalogs you’re just looking for fun new seeds, not stuff you already have.
2) Prune roses, fruit and ornamental trees
Here roses will continue to flower well into January. Once they’re done, this is your chance to prune and give them a good headstart on a healthy shrub and flowers in early spring. This is also the time to prune fruit, subtropical and ornamental trees before the longer days and warmer weather of late winter wakes them up.
3) Check outdoor pots and plantersIn this climate we don’t need to bring any but the most sensitive potted plants indoors, so you’ve probably still got a lot growing outside. Now is a good time to go through the garden and roundup pots that are empty, have dead plants, or ones in need of re-potting or a soil refresh. I generally collect all the ones in need of work so I have a good idea of which planters are available as well as how much new potting mix I’m going to need in the coming weeks.
4) Inspect and clear raised beds
Raised beds that have been resting since fall should be cleared of any debris or weeds and the bed frames inspected and repaired if necessary. Check the soil level and condition as well so you know how much additional soil/compost you’ll need to top the beds off.
5) Start prep on new gardens
As with much of the American west and southwest, this is the rainy season. Once spring gets going it’s unlikely we’ll see any significant rainfall again until mid-autumn. As such, now is the time to start preparations on any new gardens you’re planning. The ground is soft and easy to turn, and any weeds are probably still in the early stages making them much easier to clear than later in the season — especially if you battle common weeds like invasive grasses, nettles, mallow and mustard
6) Greenhouse maintenance and repairsIf you’ve got a greenhouse, do any maintenance or repairs while it’s still fairly empty. Mine is wood-framed with polycarbonite panels, so I check the wood for signs of water damage or pests and hit any trouble spot with a little wood preservative. Then I check the panels for warping or broken bushings on the mounting screws. If your frame is aluminium/steel and glass, check the glass and make sure the panels are snug and the framing joints are firm. If you see corrosion or rust, remove it and hit it with a rust inhibitor. Finally, make sure the door and vent hinges and opener arms are properly lubricated and work smoothly before shade cloth gets installed in a few weeks.
7) Inspect and clean pots and seed traysSpeaking of empty pots, now is also a great time to get your reusable pots and seed trays clean and ready for spring planting. Inspect them for cracks, broken bits, brittleness, etc. To clean, brush off any dirt, cobwebs, etc. and wash them in a 5 gallon bucket of plain water followed by a rinse in a second 5 gallon bucket of water to which you’ve added ¼ cup of bleach. Make sure they’re thoroughly dry before you stack them.
8) Sow tomatoes, cauliflower and cabbages
While we’re on seeds, if you’ve got a greenhouse or an indoor area where you can grow seedlings, you can get a start on spring by sowing early tomatoes, lettuces, and brassicas like cauliflower and broccoli. Don’t get all crazy and start planting warmer season stuff like cucumbers, corn and squash though. Even if you keep the soil warm enough for them, the day length is still too short to get much more than leggy seedlings. For those you’ll need to wait a few more weeks.
Yes, there are other things you could do as well, but why get too ambitious? Fake Spring will be gone soon enough and we’ll get back to the normal cold, wet trudge that is February. Better to sit inside and plan the spring garden so you can hit the ground running in March.