7 tips to jump-start your spring garden
Consider this your March garden checklist.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, I know the holidays have come and gone, and while I love the winter fires in the fireplace and watching the around-the-clock holiday movies courtesy of Hallmark (I can never get enough of the happy endings), I can’t help but bask in the warmth of the weather peeking through the clouds and the glimmer of longer days on the horizon.
For me, March is the opportune time to take an inventory of the past and present while assessing future projects. I was chatting with a fellow beginner gardener this past month, and she shared that she “just didn’t know where to start.” The ensuing conversation led to this simple garden checklist, which I hope will help to keep spring from being as intimidating as it can be for many of us.
1. Check for safety
We had a fair amount of rain and winds this past winter, so many of our garden beds, irrigation lines and pathways need attention. Safety is my number one concern, so I’ll grab a pen and notebook to do an assessment walk, noting all things sharp, moldy, and leaky for me to revisit and patch.
Our paths require some new decomposed granite to prevent slipping, and I have to replace some of my wooden garden beds—thanks to those darn termites. I plan to explore vinyl beds for future replacements for longevity and easy maintenance.
2. Map it out
Before I order all my favorite seeds and bulbs this spring, I have to come up with a plan. Personally, I find this restraint to be the hardest part. I’m not known for my patience. Honestly, I have been known to glare at a pot of water until it boils. This year, however, I am determined to plant only what we eat for our vegetable garden and only order seeds, tubers and bulbs for which I have space.
As always, I will get the kiddos involved here and help them make a “what can we grow for dinner” seed list.
This is also a great time to get a jump on garden maps and to begin plotting where you can plant, estimate how much you can plant, and the best way to use your hard-earned budgeted dollars to create that garden of your dreams.
3. Turnover soil
One of the most anticipated items on my checklist is turning over our soil in my vegetable garden beds with my homemade compost. It’s been “brewing” for months, and the breakdown of the compost is loose, moist and crumbly (and a little stinky). Just what I was hoping for!
I plan to work the compost into the existing beds until the dirt turns into a soft, workable consistency and then dress the top layers with organic fertilizer.
4. Thin out seedlings
Seed starting has been some of the most fun we’ve had as beginner gardeners. In a world where the Amazon van delivers everything ready to use in a nice brown box right to our door, the process of growing something from nothing is pretty magical for my kids and me. This is a delicate process, though, and when starting seeds inside and transplanting them into the ground, things can get tricky.
Ideally, new plants should have a well-established root system in their starting cells, so “thinning” the multiple seedlings in each small pot is essential. Less competition offers more opportunity for the seedlings to spread strong roots.
5. Fertilize existing plants, shrubs and flowers
It’s easy to overlook those existing shrubs and trees that otherwise thrive with little maintenance, but I’ve learned the hard way not to take them for granted.
One year, I had a flourishing tangerine tree, and the next year I didn’t. The difference was improper fertilization and mulching. I won’t make this mistake again!
Half the work is heading to the hardware store and purchasing the correct organic fertilizer for the different types of fruit trees, shrubs or flowers that we have. The other half is throwing on gloves and getting dirty, dressing the outer root systems around the base.
It’s important to fertilize and mulch as the trees and shrubs begin to bud, to optimize the fertilization process.
6. Note the temp
Much of the life expectancy of the things I’d like to plant depends on the temperature of the soil. If the temperature is too cold, new root systems can’t thrive, and all our hard work could go to waste. The ideal soil temperature for planting new vegetable plants is between 65 to 75 degrees.
7. Test and fix drip lines
If you’re like me, you dread turning your garden drip lines back on after a winter break because you know that the real work is about to begin. The weather takes its toll on our irrigation, and so do those pesky critters roaming about the garden. “Puddle-jumping” and “mud-pie-making” kids in the garden all winter doesn’t help either. So naturally, there are random leaks and holes in the system come spring.
After I switch the water on, I carefully walk through each of the beds, observing the lines, and note how much to fix or replace before we begin planting.