Prepare Your Garden for Spring

It’s finally that time of year! Spring is almost here! It’s time to prepare your garden for another growing season. 

Hopefully, through the winter you’ve been staying on top of things like deadheading and pruning that way you have a head start on cleanup tasks, but if you haven’t now is the time to start!

Remove old flower heads from perennial plants, living weeds, damaged branches, and older mulch and grass clippings. Most of these things can be placed in a compost heap to become incorporated into the soil. If it is already well-composted in place you can use organic matter to work into the soil and increase nutrient levels. You want to expose the soil so you can prepare it for flowers and other plants. 

At this point you can add an organic fertilizer along with the older mulch, working the soil until it’s all mixed in. This will ready the garden bed for spring planting, and giving it the nutrients it needs to support your flowers and vegetables. This will also help to loosen up the soil which is important after being compacted all winter long. While you’re digging up the soil, it’s the perfect time to perform a soil test to see what your pH levels are and whether or not you need to make adjustments. Your local cooperative extension can help with this. 

If you’re going to be using raised bed planters early spring is a good time to purchase soil specifically formulated for raised beds. While it may be too early to plant most crops, being prepared for warmer weather never hurts. If you decide to plant cool weather crops like lettuce, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts, be sure to cover crops with a frost protectant on nights that may still be extremely cold. 

Finally, once you’ve gotten your beds prepared and your garden ready for next month’s planting you can spend some time dividing up perennials—like bearded iris, hostas, and daylilies. These perennials can often begin to crowd each other out over time, causing their blooms to get smaller and more sparse as time goes on. By splitting them you give them more room to grow. The most important thing to remember with splitting plants is that your garden tools must be sterilized with alcohol first. You can spread disease and pests from one plant to another if you don’t keep your tools clean. 

Winterizing Strawberry Pots

Strawberries are one of the more hardy fruits you can plant; but they still benefit from winterizing if you want to be sure of a full crop come spring, especially if you are living in zones below zone 7. If you live in zones 8 and higher they will often not need any help at all to survive the winter. Overwintered strawberries tend to bloom in early spring, letting you get a jump on the growing season. Being perennial, strawberries are built to survive cold weather, however, they do not have the woody bark some other perennials do so they need a little bit of help in cold temperatures so they don’t die or suffer injuries.

The way you overwinter your strawberries will depend on how you grow strawberries. Potted strawberry plants and those in hanging baskets are the easiest to overwinter. Winterizing strawberry plants in strawberry pots simply means moving them to an unheated garage. Once the crowns have browned and shriveled and the plants have entered dormancy it’s time to move them. This means that it has been below freezing for several nights in a row. First, clean up the crowns by snipping off any browned leaves to prevent them from rotting over the winter. Then, just move the pots inside against the house if possible for the ambient heat it provides if you live in a very cold location. However, if the garage doesn’t get below around 28 degrees Fahrenheit you’ll have no problem putting the pots anywhere in the garage, or even in an unheated shed. 

For strawberries in the ground, or in a raised bed, winterizing strawberry plants is only slightly more involved. Plants in the ground will need a layer of insulating material to keep them warm. Straw or leaves work perfectly for this purpose. 

It is important not to let the plants completely dry out. You want to keep the soil moisture level just slightly damp. A layer of straw will help with this for in-ground plants. Potted plants will have to be checked and watered about once a week. 

By following these tips your plants will be bearing strawberries again come spring, and you’ll be sharing all of the sweet treats you made with them by early summer!

Tips for Cold Frame Gardening

What is a cold frame? A cold frame is simply a translucent or clear box without a bottom that is used to protect tender plants from the cold weather of late fall and early spring.  

Most people who go about building a cold frame will use a wooden base and then a glass or plastic window over the top. (Old recycled windows make for a wonderful cold frame top.) The cold frame uses solar energy to trap heat inside, warming the ground and plants, to allow you to extend your growing season past the first frost. It can also be used to harden off seedlings that were started indoors—ensuring their survival through the season—or for seed starting directly in the ground under the frame. 

A cold frame can be made simply, or it can be relatively complex. Remember all it has to do is protect plants and hold in heat. A simple cold frame can be made from recycled milk jugs. Just cut off the bottom and bury the edges slightly in the dirt over a plant. On a sunny day, the milk jug will trap heat in the same way the glass windows will, and you can open the caps to allow for ventilation. 

If you want to get more complicated you can make a wooden frame and use windows that open and close and create hot beds. A hot bed is a cold frame that has electric heating inside. If you prefer not to use electricity you can also dig down into the ground about 15 inches and fill the bed with manure around your plants. As the manure breaks down it will create heat to warm your plants at the same time it feeds them. 

Come spring you can sow seeds weeks earlier if you utilize a cold frame; combining that with the longer growing season into fall you can add a whole two months or more to your growing season.

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