Gardening is more or less a continuous affair with just a small break during the coldest of cold days of winter. Even the plants and wild animals go to sleep then, but often after an elaborate ritual of preparation.
Likewise, we, too, have a number of preparatory tasks to complete before we put our feet up. Going that extra mile now, to prepare your garden for spring, will earn you handsome dividends later.
The following list will serve as a guide as you wind up your gardening chores this season.
1. Completing harvest
It’s not a great idea to leave unpicked fruits and vegetables on the bushes and trees even if you find them unripe and unusable. They can play host to fungal infections and parasites, and can carry them forward into the next season. You don’t want to waste time combating them in spring.
The healthy plants can go into the compost pile, fruits and all, but if you see any signs of disease, they should be either burned to ashes or carted off from the garden. Don’t add tomato plants to the compost as they are high-risk carriers of certain diseases. The root vegetables and onion bulbs can remain underground for winter harvest, but make it easy by installing some markers to identify the exact spots to dig in the snow.
2. Cleaning up the garden
Leaving garden clean-up for spring will lose you many days that can be used more profitably otherwise. Under a layer of snow they’ll get preserved like mammoths from the Ice Age, only to add to your spring chores.
But add them now to the compost pile instead of freezing them, and they will turn into good quality plant food with all the self-generated heat of the compost pile.
3. Completing mulching
Mulching keeps the root zone warm enough while the ground freezes over. Doing it properly is very important; it helps the plants tide over the winter season and presents a luxurious growth in the spring.
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Young trees, recently transplanted cuttings, and perennials prone to frostbite, need extra attention. Root crops that remain underground during winter, such as carrots and radishes, will also do well with a thick layer of mulch over them. Straw and hay are popular choices, but the kind of mulch you’d use may depend on their availability, too.
4. Planning out the future beds
Planning early gives you plenty of time to prepare the beds ahead of the actual planting. You can till the area, add compost and manure, and work them in.
You can even mark out the exact spots where the plants should go in according to their spacing requirements, and take the guess work out of the quantity you require for each bed.
5. Planting winter cover crops
Winter cover crops are not planted to get any produce out of them, but to improve soil conditions and to reduce weeds. You will not regret the extra effort you take to seed your beds with suitable winter covers. Leguminous plants have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their roots to make this essential macro nutrient available to plants. Grasses don’t have that, but their fibrous root system increases soil porosity, helping it to absorb water and prevent top soil run off.
Winter rye and winter wheat are the ones that can go in as winter cover crop at the very last. These grass plants are not exactly frost hardy, but that shouldn’t matter as you’ll be tilling them in soon enough. Their abundant root run, and the organic matter they are adding to the soil, will make it porous and more fertile.
6. Testing the soil and making amendments
There is no better time for soil testing than now. Any amendments required can be done early enough so that they get time to decompose and get incorporated with the soil. This aging process is important in making the nutrients available to the plants. As a matter of fact, fresh farm manure can burn the roots of plants. If you add them to the soil in winter, it will give them a long season for aging and getting mixed well into the soil.
The pH value can be adjusted by adding lime to the soil to reduce acidity, and organic matter to increase it, if necessary.
7. Collecting seeds and seed heads
Some of the seed heads can be left on the plants to self seed in spring. But if you gather them now, you will save a lot of labor pulling out seedlings in unwanted places, and finding new places for them.
Collecting and drying seeds now will help you plant them in spring exactly where you want them. You can exchange the seeds with other gardeners, too. Don’t forget to label the packets correctly with names and dates of collection.
8. Doing some plant surgery
Check all your bushes and trees for branches weakened by disease or aging. Most deciduous trees would have shed their leaves, and that’ll give you a better view of their skeletal structure. It is easier to spot damages now, than later in the spring when they will get covered with new growth.
If you find any weaklings, they should be promptly amputated. You don’t want them breaking off under the weight of snow or luxuriant spring growth. Unnecessary accidents can be avoided and a lot of time and damage spared in the busy days of spring.
9. Getting tools repaired
Save a lot of time in spring by checking all your garden equipment for wear and tear and malfunctions now. Get the dull ones sharpened, and store them with a coating of oil to prevent rusting. Check belts, gears and washers to see whether they need any replacements.
Get leaks, broken blades and handles, faulty valves, etc., fixed now. If you wait until spring, there could be more demand for such services and you may not get prompt response from the technicians. With everything ready, you get to jump into gardening straightaway when the warm weather approaches.
10. Preparing a to-do list for spring
A hiatus in working the garden can play tricks with your memory. So jot down all that requires special attention when spring comes around. It could be anything from installing a new water feature to buying new garden implements. Prioritize the items in your to-do list according to the order in which they should be done, and with due consideration for the urgency of the tasks.
When you’ve ticked off all the winter chores that would help you prepare for spring, you can hang up your gardening gloves and enjoy a well-deserved break in the company of seed catalogues.
What would you add to this winter garden checklist? Leave your reply in the section below: