In most of the country, it’s still too soon to put away our jackets and warm socks. But in my Georgia garden, I’m seeing signs of spring: my sunny yellow ‘Baby Moon’ daffodils are up, the grass is greening up (unfortunately, so are the weeds), and I’m hearing bird song again. Time for some spring cleaning!
Winter isn’t through with us yet, though, so we have to be careful about setting out tender annuals or turning the water back on for outdoor spigots and hoses. But there are some things we can do - things we should be doing - to prep for spring.
One thing to remember: avoid working in your garden or beds unless the soil is dry. You don’t want to compact the soil by walking on it, or form hard clods by trying to dig or till too soon. Test your soil’s readiness by scooping up a handful and squeezing it into a ball. Drop the ball from about waist-high. If it shatters, it’s probably dry enough to work. If the ball stays intact, move on to some other garden chores for now.
- Weeds pop up fast in lawns and gardens when the temperatures rise, so jump on them right away. Use a pre-emergent weed control to get rid of weeds before they’ve had time to germinate, or a post-emergent if they’re already actively growing. Be kind to the earth, and use only the chemicals that target your particular problem, and read and follow product directions carefully.
- For organic weed control, use landscape fabric or mulch that blocks as much sunlight as possible. Newspaper, cardboard, a thick layer of bark, dried leaves or weed-free straw and hay are good choices. Later on, you can cut “X’s” in the fabric to make room for your plants.
- If the soil is dry enough to move around in your garden, remove the old winter mulch. If it’s decomposing, and it’s free of weed seeds and hasn’t been used around plants that suffered from diseases, it’s fine to work it into your soil to help improve it. Replace as needed with fresh mulch. Don’t forget mulching your shrubs and trees, too, to help conserve moisture once hot weather arrives.
- Prune your fruit trees before they bud out.
- Did you clean, sharpen, and oil your garden tools before you put them away last fall? If not, you can still give them some TLC. Use a 2:1 ratio of non-detergent 30W motor oil and kerosene or lamp oil to wipe them down and help protect them from rust. Dispose of, or recycle, the mixture as you would any motor oil.
- Start seeds of tomatoes, peppers and other heat-loving plants indoors. The seed packet will tell you how many weeks in advance to sow them, so they’ll be ready to transplant into the garden when the weather and the ground are reliably warm.
- Prune your spring-flowering shrubs after the blooms are finished.
- Change the oil and spark plugs in your lawn mower. Sharpen the blade with a metal file, or take it to a hardware store to have it done. Check to see if your mower needs a new belt.
- Scrub your garden pots with baking soda, water and a stiff brush, and rinse them thoroughly. If you’re worried about diseases lingering from last year’s plants, soak the pots in a mixture of 10 parts water to 1 part bleach for 30 minutes. Then soak them in fresh, clean water for another 30 minutes. Be sure all the bleach is rinsed away, so you don’t harm your plants. Let the pots drain and air dry before using them.
- After your spring bulbs finish, let the foliage die back naturally before removing it. Don’t cut it, braid or tie it. Your bulbs soak up sunshine in their leaves, which provides the energy for next year’s flowers.
- Consider installing a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses. They’ll deliver water to plants more efficiently than overhead sprinklers, and you’ll be glad you have them if rain is scarce.
- This is a great time to start a garden journal, before you get really busy outdoors. Sketch your garden, so you can rotate your crops next year, and note the dates you planted, so you’ll know when your harvest should be ready. You might want to include a spot to save plant care tags, too.
- Have fun and get excited! Spring is on the way.