by Jesse Eastman
Last year’s canned tomatoes are nearly gone. The “fresh” produce at the grocery store is starting to look a little bit suspect. If you have to spend one more day dreaming about spring instead of actually doing something, you might just freak out. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Statistics show that in the month of March, 4 out of 5 gardeners are climbing up the walls, but only 1 out of 5 gardeners is actually prepared for the rapidly approaching gardening season (statistics may be completely made up).
When spring comes knocking, will you be ready to answer? Here are 20 tips to prepare you for success in your garden this spring:
- Choose your seeds – If there are certain seed varieties you just have to have, get them soon. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in our store, just let us know, we’re happy to place special orders and save you the shipping cost charged by seed catalogs.
- Start some seeds indoors – Make the most of the growing season by starting certain seeds indoors this winter. Use seed starting trays, seedling heat mats, and plant lights to get your seeds going. Once they have germinated, you can place them near a south-facing window for the most amount of winter sunlight. Keep in mind that even in a bright window, providing additional full-spectrum artificial light will ensure they don’t get too leggy and stretched out. Peppers and tomatoes are two garden staples that can benefit from this indoor head start.
- Select a garden site – If you don’t already have a garden area established, tour your property for garden locations that get lots of sun exposure. Most vegetables prefer at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Be sure to pay attention to nearby trees – they may be bare now but will leaf out and create shade later this year. Other important characteristics include good soil drainage and access to water.
- Determine the size of your garden and the placement of your plants – Draw a plan. Research how much space each plant will need to ensure adequate space. If you crowd plants too close, they will underperform. Also consider whether taller plants like corn or climbing vines will cast shade. While some plants may suffer in shade, some plants such as lettuce will thrive in a cooler shaded location.
- Build raised beds – Don’t have raised beds yet? Now is the time to find out what it’s all about! Raised beds can help improve drainage, can keep your garden tidier, and raise the surface of your garden so you don’t have to bend over as far.
- Check your supplies – Take an inventory of your gardening tools and supplies. Make sure your tools are clean, dry, sharpened and in good working order. Repair or replace any equipment that is in poor shape. Proper tool care not only ensures your tools work when you need them, but can save you money and can help prevent the spread of disease in your garden (clean cuts heal better than cuts made with dull blades). Were there tools or supplies you wished you had last year? Stock up now so your projects don’t get stalled because you’re unprepared.
- Read a book – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so spend some time researching gardening techniques, new varieties, and other topics related to your gardening goals. It’s always fun to get some new ideas to implement in your garden each year. Some great all-purpose primers include Secrets from my Grandma’s Garden by Don Eversoll, How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools, & Garden Supplies by Jim Fox, and The New Vegetable Grower’s Handbook by Frank Tozer.
- Research irrigation options – Research options a more efficient watering program. Replace leaky soaker hoses, convert to drip irrigation, and group plants by their water needs so you’re not wasting water on plants that want less. A well-maintained irrigation system can save you loads of time and can help reduce disease such as botrytis and powdery mildew.
- Plan for weed control – Weeds in a garden are a fact of life, but there are steps you can take now to minimize their impact on your garden and your time. Sterile straw mulch is a great weed suppressant and can be easily composted at the end of the year. It has the added benefit of keeping sunlight off the soil, which reduces water loss. Planting your plants close together (but not so close they get crowded) can also reduce sunlight on the soil and helps prevent weeds from getting established.
- Eliminate pest hidey holes – Don’t leave debris lying around near the garden such as large boards or stones where garden pests like to hide. Think about barriers you can install, including everything from adding new fencing to planting border plants, such as marigolds and nasturtiums, to keep pests at bay.
- Create and maintain a compost area – When done correctly, homemade compost can be quite a benefit in your garden. You can create rich compost from your grass clippings, vegetable waste, egg shells, coffee grounds, and chipped woody pruning while keeping load of materials out of the landfill. To keep the pile aerated, turn it with a garden fork each month. Compost is easy to make, adds important nutrients and microbes to the soil, and helps your soil hold moisture levels.
- Prune trees – Late winter or early spring – before buds begin to open — is the best time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs. Cut out any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Also look for crossing branches where bark can rub together and create a wound. If you are doing significant pruning or removing a tree entirely, consider the shade it used to create and what impact this change will have on your nearby landscape and garden.
- Prepare garden beds – Remove any remaining winter mulch or leaves and work fresh amendment or compost into the soil. Get rid of other debris that may have found its way into your beds. If you have raised beds, inspect them for rot and repair as needed.
- Fix fences, gates, and trellises – Winter can be rough on wooden garden structures. Take a survey of your garden and landscape to determine whether any repairs or replacements are needed before the growing season hits.
- Remove any winter weeds – While many weeds are annuals and die in the winter, some, such as thistle, bindweed, and many grasses are perennial and may pop up with no warning. Take care of any interlopers that have sprung up since your fall clean-up.
- Clean your greenhouse – If you have a greenhouse that has been idle all winter, it’s time to get it back into shape. Sweep out debris on the floor and benches and disinfect the inside of the greenhouse, including the walls. Wash out and disinfect pots and seed trays. Ventilate your greenhouse when the weather permits and let everything dry out well.
- Get your soil tested – Pick up a free soil sample kit and take it to the CSU Soil Lab to find out if you need to add nutrients and/or adjust the pH level of your soil.
- Start (or continue) a journal – A garden journal can be a gardener’s best friend. Keep your plans, drawings, and purchase receipts all in one place. Make notes of what grows well and what struggles. Keep track of what to do when. The best way to learn from your past mistakes and capitalize on your past successes is to make sure you’ve got good records.
- Get in shape – There’s no way around it, gardening can be hard work. If you’re like me, you might benefit from a little bit of exercise before you start in on the demanding physicality of garden prep. Start going for longs vigorous walks, or better, yet, a jog or a bike ride. Start doing some stretches so it doesn’t hurt so much when you bend over to plant your garden. Do some core exercises like planks, bicycle crunches, and leg lifts to protect your back from injury.
- Enjoy the outdoors – As the days get longer and warmer, take some time to appreciate just being outside with nature. Growing a garden is satisfying work, and each season brings with it exciting new opportunities, challenges, and rewards!
Originally published on March 2nd, 2018. Updated on September 5th, 2019.