It’s already January and what have you done in your garden…on your garden…to your garden? Just what have you done for your garden lately?
Let’s take this on a week-by-week plan of attack to get your garden into shape for the springtime.
First of all, if you haven’t ordered your seed catalogs for this season, then you should do it now! Better yet, save a tree and don’t order them. Use the online catalog feature on most seed sellers’ websites to decide which flowers and veggies to plant.
Make your garden plan and list out what you want to plant and where. If you have to, use last year’s seed catalogs as references. Remembering what you planted last year and mapping it out onto paper is helpful when deciding heights and layers of group plantings. Also, remember and note last year’s successes and mistakes. Sometimes, knowing what grew according to its description and what did not will make your design plan much more desirable and pleasing to the eye. Some of the plants you grew last year may have been beautiful, but may not have been exactly what you wanted because of their growth habit. Use that information and choose a cultivar more suited for the area to be planted.
Next, collect soil samples to be tested. The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service recommends soil testing every two to three years in order to ensure the soil has the proper nutrients to sustain the life of the plants desired. Soil test kits (mailers and instructions) are free and available at your county Extension service office as well as most independent retail nurseries and Quality Co-op centers. The test itself is a bargain and still only costs $7. Your results will come with a complete analysis and easy to read and understand instructions on what to do next.
Week three: Amend your garden beds by turning into the soil organic material like compost you have been helping Mother Nature create since late last summer. Work it into the planting beds thoroughly.
One method I use on occasion is to layer newspapers on the planting beds and then place a heavy layer of compost, finishing with pine straw or leaves on top. By the time March gets here and it’s time to till the planting beds, I have a nice layer of organic material to turn into the soil.
Week four: Start your seeds indoors in seedling trays. Use bottom heat whenever you can to boost germination. Remember, some seeds need light in order to germinate (begonias, petunias, etc.). Those seeds should be sprinkled on top of a fine, soilless, germinating medium. A light dusting of medium vermiculite will help prevent the seeds from washing out of the containers.
Sow your seeds according to their "days to maturity" data. For example, if a particular flower or veggie has 65 days to maturity, you might want to wait a week or two to sow them. Since some chili peppers or gourds may have 100 to 120 days to maturity, they should be sown first in order to give them a jumpstart in the garden. Still, you should wait until the danger of frost is over. Also, some folks use protective covers and other devices to protect their plants from late cold temperatures. However, some plants, like chili peppers and vinca, just won’t grow until the soil temperatures warm up to at least 60°. They will just sit there in their protective shields until the time is right.
Finally, to top off all you have just accomplished and give yourself the edge needed when the time is right to plant your garden, make certain all of your garden and lawn tools are properly serviced and ready to use.
If you service your own mower, chainsaw or string trimmer, then do it now. If not, take it now to your local independent power equipment retailer to have the servicing done before the busy season starts and everybody who waited until the last minute, but who want it now and are ahead of you.
Sharpen and clean your hedge trimmers, loppers and pruning shears. Clean and oil all of your shovels, spades, rakes, forks and such. You can also make a cool tool to help keep them clean all season long.
Here’s how: Take a five-gallon bucket and fill it to the halfway point with builder’s sand. Add about one quart of spent, petroleum-based motor oil (from an oil change). Each time you finish using your garden tools, dip them into the sand before you put them away. This will clean, hone and oil them, and they will be ready to use fresh each time.
A little early preparation goes a long way. Make sure you, your garden and your tools are ready for a successful, beautiful and bountiful gardening season!
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