Article written by Rhianna DeVries - bio in Editorial Team.
Depending on where you call home, the effects of winter can manifest in different ways. From snow-coated rooftops to gloomy wet streets, winter is in full swing. If you’re an avid gardener, this might mean it’s been a little while since you’ve flexed your green thumb. And if you’re an aspiring gardener, this could mean you’ve been waiting on the sidelines with your seed packets, ready to grow. Now is your time: spring is on the horizon. And whether you’re a seasoned lover of gardening or if you’re just starting, preparing your garden for the incoming spring can feel like quite the undertaking. Not to worry though, we’ve got some great tips and tricks that will start you off on the right foot this coming spring season.
Prepping for spring means doing a little planning and dreaming about the kinds of plants that you want in your garden in the coming year. Now - as the clouds obscure the sun and the winter chill turns your breath into puffs of air before your eyes - this is a great time to settle down in your home with a warm beverage and do some online browsing for the plants that make up your dream garden. You can also make a quick trip to your local gardening store for your favorite summer-flowering seeds and bulbs.
No matter if you choose to browse bulbs and seeds from the comfort of your home or a local garden center, this is a great way to escape the cold by daydreaming about your future bright, colorful sunny days ahead, and which flowers and plants you want to paint your garden. From black-eyed Susans to butterfly bushes, hydrangeas to lamb’s ear, there are plenty of summer plants to choose from to create your dreamy summer garden.
Geraniums, begonias, and peppers are just a few of the plants that need a little bit more time in the soil, and January and February are prime time to get their growing process going. Though, it should be noted that these seeds will need to be started in a heated propagator to ensure their growth. For instance, if you have a greenhouse or enjoy gardening indoors, it might be wise to begin sowing your antirrhinums (snapdragons) and dianthus (carnations/pinks) sooner rather than later.
Or, if you’re more into growing plants for your dinner plate, you can begin planting your strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries to get an early crop in the summer. Of course, this is providing the soil isn’t waterlogged or frozen. When planting your berries early on, try to choose sunny sites with free-draining soil. In general, it’s a good idea to start growing whatever you can/want to indoors to get a head start. Other plants for your plate that can be started indoors include hardier vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, some lettuces, and artichokes, as well.
These mid-to-late winter months are the ideal time to get some work in before the sun comes out and gardening season is in full bloom. It would be helpful to take the opportunity to build a wonderful foundation for your plants to bloom in to prepare for the beautiful gardening season to come. You can get a jump on this opportunity by starting your spring cleaning a little early and cleaning out your shed. Below are several shed organization tips.
Starting strong often means having the right gardening tools and workspace and keeping your tool maintenance updated and consistent. So, take a look at your shed and get to cleaning! Rid the space of things you do not need or items that no longer work, then get to sharpening blades and oiling hinges. You can use a mill file to sharpen your knives and add on some penetrating oil that’ll do well to remove and prevent corrosion of the tool. Well-maintained, sharpened, and oiled tools make for a much easier time digging, turning soil, and gardening in general.
You can also consider upgrading or adding to your collection of tools and supplies while you’re evaluating your space and belongings. It might also be beneficial to look at what resources you have regarding plant support and replenish your stock of fertilizer and soil amendments accordingly. While you’re at it, you can also look into building any structures you’ll need for the coming spring, like tomato cages that you’ve wanted to DIY. Essentially, it can help knock out the duties that can be done indoors during the cloudy winter weather so that when spring hits and the sun comes out, you can maximize the time you spend in the sunshine doing what you love.
Many trees and shrubs need a good pruning this time of year. This is especially true for those plants that bloom on new wood. For example, some plants you might want to think about pruning around this time are butterfly bush, redbud, roses, wisteria, and more. Late winter and early spring are prime-time for pruning back old wood on your trees and shrubs because you’ll be able to see the branch structure more clearly, and it allows you to shape the plant before the buds break out of dormancy.
But first, you should consider a few things before you grab your sheers and get to work. First, as you prune, be sure to use a clean rag and some isopropyl alcohol to sterilize your pruners before each cut you make. This is so that you can avoid spreading disease around the garden (think of pruning a little bit like surgery—you would not want a doctor to use an unsanitized scalpel on multiple patients). Also, bear in mind that it is also good practice to add a little bit of fertilizer to the soil after you prune to ensure that your plant has the nutrients to draw from to heal quickly afterward. Of course, make sure that you are pruning the right plants to begin with; specifically, avoid pruning plants that bloom on old wood, such as spirea, camellia, and rhododendron lilac, and magnolia, just to name a few.
Choosing when to prep your soil depends on whenever the frost lifts in your area, but once the soil is workable, it is a great time to get started prepping for the spring. During the winter months, soil often becomes compacted. Loosen up your soil by tilling or turning it with a tiller or a sharp spade (which, hopefully, you sharpened as necessary when cleaning out your shed or gardening storage space!). As a general rule, you’ll want to work to a depth of 12 to 14 inches to loosen up your soil. Well-composted mulch or leaf litter would be great to mix in (but if it is too fresh, feel free to remove it).
Then, you can add compost and soil amendments. Soil tests can show you where your pH and nutrient levels are, so you can choose what supplements to add. However, it’s worth noting that if you have poor or clay-based soil, it will be imperative to add a healthy compost layer. This compost will improve the soil’s texture, moisture-retention, and nutrient content, making it that much more livable for your plants. Then, lightly rake and water the soil to help it release any air pockets, and allow it to settle down into its new home in the ground. Finally, keep in mind that if you have soil that is particularly poor in nutrients, it might just be best to build a raised garden bed above it as an alternative. You can pick and choose the soil and content you would like to sow your seeds into this way.
Start with a bit of spring cleaning by clearing out any weeds that have appeared, and be sure to eradicate your garden of any debris. The goal is to get your space back to merely the bare soil. If you have a compost pile, place any dead organic matter into your compost, and keep any well-composted organic matter or mulch where it is. This well-composted material can stay put to be incorporated into the soil later on. Fresh mulch should be raked away to expose the bare soil underneath.
While you’re at it, be sure to eradicate your garden of any weeds, and take extra care to be diligent with those that might still be alive. Remove these living weeds from the soil by taking them out by the roots to minimize the chance of the weeds resprouting, growing, and spreading. Then, place them in the middle of whatever compost pile you still have working. While in the compost pile, the heat will kill the weeds before any seeds can germinate. Leaving any living weeds around can open the opportunity for the weeds to return and compete with the plants you want to garden.
If your garden tends to have caterpillar problems, be sure to thoroughly weed all your garden beds and turn over the soil. By turning over the soil, you will be able to find any hidden pests that have overwintered in your gardening spaces, and you can remove them. This is also true of pests such as cutworms—cutworms are early-risers that reveal themselves early in the spring, and they’ll be sure to attack your seedling plants. So, while you’re cleaning out your weeds, make a little extra effort to rid your garden of pests while you’re at it.
You do not have to wait for the sun to peek out from behind the winter weather gloom to start your gardening. Whether you’re a long-time lover of gardening or a blossoming green-thumb, there are plenty of ways you can get started this winter to prepare your garden in the spring for its best season yet. You can read more about gardening in our home and garden section.