Well, here we are at what may be the best “spring” weekend of the winter. Is it a moment to catch up? Get ahead? Relax and enjoy it?
How about all of them?
This weekend’s weather is a lovely gift to gardeners and should inspire activity in home gardens and landscapes. At minimum, it is a chance to take care of the last of the leaves on the ground, walks and roof. Going further, it means planting the flower bulbs bought at discounts in December.
These tasks, which might have seemed a pain in the cloudy gloom a week ago, now seem almost inviting and fun to do. Catching up also means getting after the awful winter weeds, such as chickweed, that prosper even in cold weather. It is essential to get these weeds out before they bloom and then spread seeds over the landscape to germinate next winter.
But getting ahead is even more rewarding. It will make you feel spring is close and that you are ready.
Perhaps the most important task to do now is prepare your vegetable garden for planting early spring crops in late winter. February may be nice, but it can be an obstacle – cold, snowy or wet – to getting this work done on time.
Too many gardeners who do admirable work in their warm-weather vegetable beds miss the first season because the bed isn’t ready in late February or early March. That means they miss prime planting time for such easy crops as leaf lettuce, spinach, green peas, broccoli and cauliflower, which grow best in cool weather.
Cold as it seemed at the time, recent rainfall softened up Piedmont soil and made it much easier to dig than it was a few weeks ago. But a good garden bed requires more than digging. Our clay soil should be made looser and lighter with the addition of compost. If you don’t make your own with autumn’s annual shedding, you can buy it packaged.
Worked into the clay soil with a fork or tiller, it is transformative, creating a nourishing environment that allows roots to grow deeply while keeping the ground from drying out too fast or remaining soggy. If you have to buy it, this is an investment worth making. And if you decide to keep your garden small, you can concentrate on getting the soil into excellent condition.
For starters, I usually recommend a small, raised bed that is about 10 by 15 feet. This is enough space for a variety of crops in spring and summer and small enough to encourage close attention to weeding, watering and replacing crops as they play out. These dimensions will also allow you to tend most of the space without stepping very often onto that loose, well-prepared soil. If you want more space, add a second bed next year.
Flower beds also deserve a look. Trim off spent, frostbitten foliage of perennials such as mums, Shasta daisies and asters.
The forecast is for quite cold weather later this month, so let’s be ready to hunker down indoors when that happens.