Just because it’s still winter doesn’t mean you can’t get ready for spring. Here are five garden tasks you can do now before spring arrives
Mid-winter is tough. You’ve been cooped up inside for weeks and spring is finally on the horizon, so you really have an itch to go out and get an early start on the spring garden.
Unfortunately, Old Man Winter gets his full 12 weeks and, just to prove he’s still in charge, makes February and early March the coldest and most unsettled portions of the season. More often than not, that “early start” you had to have becomes your first setback of the year.
But just because getting out and planting isn’t an option, that doesn’t mean you have to sit around and stare out the window waiting for signs of spring. There’s actually a whole bunch of things you can do now so when that first day of the new season arrives you’re ready to get out and get to work in the garden. Here are five you can do now to get your garden off to a running start in spring.
1) Refresh your potting soil
Have some pots with the remnants of last fall’s annuals? How about planters with perennials that kicked the bucket for whatever reason? Save yourself some money, recycle it and it’ll be as good as new again.
Despite what you’ve heard from “Big Soil” (the potting soil producers), unless, you’re running a highly specific plant-breeding operation, potting soil is easy to renew and perfectly safe for most all plants.
To get started, pull the dead plant matter and screen the old potting soil for old roots, weeds, grubs and other undesirable stuff. If the soil is dry, mix in a little water to moisten and then blend in 25% fresh compost or some slow release fertilizer. Let it sit for a couple days to “marinate” and it’s good to go for spring.
If you think the old soil has weed seeds or you had problems with insects or soil-borne fungus last season, sterilize it first by putting it in a black plastic bag (lawn & leaf bags are perfect) and leaving it in the sun for a couple weeks. Even in really cold weather the combination of heat and cold swings will sterilize the soil perfectly.
2) Clean up your growing space(s)
Whether it’s a greenhouse, a potting room, patio, or just a spot in the window, stuff tends to pile up winter. Now’s a good time to inspect, clean and inventory your pots both for seed starting and transplants moving back outdoors.
While you’re at it, if you’ve got plants inside for winter or an abundance of houseplants, see who needs trimming, dividing and/or re-potting before the longer, warmer days kick off a new growing season.
You may also find you’ve got an excess of plants that you can trade with your friends and neighbors. And if you like to trade plants, you might also check out your favorite social media network for plant trading forums. I find it’s a good way to use excess plant stock to get some new things for next to nothing. My favorite is the Take a Plant Leave a Plant subreddit on Reddit.
3) Clean, sharpen and oil your tools
Hand tools like pruning shears, garden scissors, hori hori and grafting knives, hand trowels, tillers, etc. should be cleaned, sharpened and oiled. Wash off the dirt and grime with dish soap and water. For rust, use steel wool to scour it off. For tough, built up sticky stuff like sap and plant oils, soak them for an hour in rubbing alcohol to soften the build-up, then use a rag to wipe it off.
Metal parts should be rubbed with a machine oil like 3-in-1 to inhibit rust and moving parts like hinges, springs and joints, should be oiled or sprayed lubricant as well.
Long handle tools – shovels, hoes, forks, etc. – also need to be cleaned, sharpened and oiled.
Additionally, if it’s a wood handled tool, check the condition of the wood. Over time the waterproof coating on the handle comes off (especially if you’re like me and leave your tools out in the rain) and the exposed wood will shrink and decay.
If the handle is still firm but drying and cracking, coat it with a good wood oil like linseed (my preference) or Danish wood oil to weatherproof it. If the wood is soft and bendy or splitting, it’s time to replace the handle. You can pick up a new handle at your local garden supply for about 1/3rd the cost of a new garden tool, so if the head of the tool is still in good shape, replacing the handle is well worth a few bucks and a little time. If you’ve never replaced the handle on a garden tool, here’s a good video tutorial.
4) Prune, trim and transplant before things really get growing
Pruning, trimming and digging aren’t much fun when the weather is cold and yucky, but doing it now is better for the plant because growth is slow and there’s a lower risk shock, pests, fungus and the like getting into the newly trimmed wood.
Trimming is not only easier when the plant has fewer (or no) leaves, but you can also trim a little more heavily than you would during the growing season which provides the dual benefits of no ugly bald spots or holes in the foliage in spring, as well as allowing you to go longer without trimming again.
Transplanting is a little more work in winter than spring, but it gives you an opportunity to move plants that are outgrowing the space, or didn’t quite work where you originally planted them. The plant will be dormant or semi-dormant so even if you hack up the root ball a bit, you’ll have a lower risk of root shock than you would if the plant is actively growing.
5) Sow longer season seeds now
Of course, now is the time to get early spring seeds started so you can move them outside as soon as the weather will let you, but you can also get a head start on those longer season veggies and flowers that need warm soil and 80 to 90 days to mature.
You can start long season tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs like oregano and thyme, and flowers like geraniums (pelargoniums), begonias, snapdragons (antirrhinum) now and transplant them in mid-spring and you’ll start seeing fruits and flowers 30-45 days earlier than you would if you waited for warmer weather.
These plants generally require warmer soil temperatures and more light than early season seedlings, so you might want to put them on a seedling heat mat or in a brightly lit, warm room for best results.
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So there you have it. Just because mid-winter is cold and icky, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on the spring garden now. Busy yourself with the items on this list and you’ll be ready to hit the garden running the moment spring arrives!