As the days begin to get longer and warmer, it’s time to get ready for spring gardening. The ground may still be cold but longer days have already begun to coax your plants out of their winter dormancy. It’s undoubtedly early-there is not a lot of true gardening to do yet-but there are several valuable ways that you can prepare for the busy spring and summer seasons ahead.
Follow these tips below for a welcoming garden that’s filled with color, fragrance and food.
Survey the Yard
Check your garden for winter damage. Make note of tree limbs that should be removed or cabled, especially those that overhang structures. Hire an arborist to maintain large trees. Cut down last year’s perennial foliage, and toss it into the compost pile. Rake mulch from beds planted with bulbs before foliage appears, and refresh mulch in other planting areas where last year’s applications have thinned. As you work, try not to walk on muddy areas, as your footsteps will compact the soil.
Tune up Tools
Maintaining your garden tolls will ensure that any chore you complete gets done with the highest potential for accuracy and precision. Not only do tools need to be sharp, they also need to be clean and sterile, so they don’t spread disease or virus. Start by washing off the dirt with water and scrubbing with a wire brush. Dip the tools in a diluted solution of any household bleach. Turpentine can be used for any tools that might have sap on them and vinegar can be used to soak tools that have rusted. Give wooden handles a light rubbing in linseed oil. Not only does cleaning mean sterile tools, they will last longer, protecting your original investment in them.
All tools with sharp edges need occasional sharpening. Wipe blades down with WD40 or another lubricant. Most blades can be filed with a 10” slat mill file, purchased at most hardware stores. File at a 20 to 45 degree angle for most tools, following the original bevel.
Don’t leave your tools out in the elements, store them where they will be kept dry and are likely to remain rust-free. A great way to store small spades and trowels is by keeping them in a pot filled with sand that has been soaked with motor oil. This helps keep the metal well-conditioned. Larger tools are best kept hanging in a dry, ventilated shed or garage.
Get Ready to Mow
Send the mower and leaf blower for servicing, or if you have the right tools, sharpen the mower blades yourself. Refill your mower with oil, install fresh spark plugs, and lubricate moving parts as needed. Clear the lawn of winter debris, and look for areas that need reseeding before mowing.
Prune Trees and Shrubs
Remove dead, damaged and diseased branches from woody plants, not to mention branches whose appearance contrasts the aesthetic your shrub or tree. Take this dormant time of the season to thin and trim summer-blooming shrubs such as butterfly bush, hydrangea, and most roses. Avoid cutting any species that bloom early, such as lilacs or forsythia. Prune fruit trees well before buds begin to break into bloom or the tree may be stressed resulting in reduced crop.
Start a Compost Pile
Start a compost pile, or use a compost bin, if you don’t have one already. Begin by collecting plant debris and leaves raked up from your garden. Chopping up first will speed up decomposition. Add equal amounts “brown” (carbon-rich) materials like dried leaves and straw and “green (nitrogen-rich) materials like grass clippings and weeds in even layers with water and a compost bioactivator. Turn regularly. Continue adding to the pile throughout the season for rich, homemade compost next spring.
You can compost at home with one of many commercially available compost bins but making your own is really easy. Homemade bins can be made out of large trash cans with hole drilled into the sides. Choose one with wheels if you intend on moving it. Another way to make a compost bin is with wooden pallets or you can use concrete cinder blocks. Depending on the type of bin you choose, you can build a compost bin in a matter of minutes-for very little money-and be on your way to reducing the waste you send to the landfill and giving valuable nutrients to your own garden.