Archive for the ‘spring’ Category

Spring Painting DO’s

 

 

Primer comes before paint.
Tempted to skip the primer? Primer not only provides a good surface for the paint, but it also brings out the paint’s true color.

Paint like a pro.
Painting is your chance to show off your skills. Use an edge pad for clean lines around doorframes, ceiling edges and corners so your walls look great — down to every last detail.

Create a sticky situation.
Paint won’t stick to the wall if you haven’t taken the time to prep. The surface must be clean, non-glossy and in good condition.

One gallon at a time.
How much paint will it take to cover your walls? The pros recommend one gallon for every 400 square feet. Covering textured, rough or unprimed surfaces may require more.

Dry days make good painting days.
Moisture in the air keeps water-based paint from drying. Skip the humid afternoon paint project and slow drying walls won’t wreck the rest of your day.

Put your sandwich bags to work.
Slip a small plastic bag over your doorknobs and tape the edge to avoid getting paint in places it wasn’t meant to go. You’re so resourceful.

Out with the old.
If the old paint on your wall is flaking off, it’s a good idea to buy a paint scraper and get it out of the way. Once all the old paint is gone, sand the surface smooth, prime and your new paint will look great.

Clean finish.
If you’re looking for paint in high-traffic areas, semi-gloss is the way to go. Shiny and durable, semi-gloss is a parent’s best friend.

Give the walls a sponge bath.
Washing your walls from top to bottom is always recommended because paint sticks better to a clean surface.

Don’t look back.
Once an area starts to dry, it’s best to leave it alone. Going back over it can leave marks and color streaks in the paint’s surface.

Polka dots look good on fabric—not floors.
Unless you’re trying to paint your floor, we recommend covering it up with a drop cloth. It’s the cheap, easy way to save yourself a whole lot of irritation.

Take away the shine.
Paint doesn’t always adhere to glossy surfaces. We recommend using a light grade sandpaper to take the gloss off the surface so your new paint sticks like it should.

Turn in the brush.
Small rooms can feel gigantic when it comes to painting. A roller will do a better job than a paint brush in less time.

Spare the wall plates.
Before you start, remove all wall plates and tape off light switches and electrical outlets. You’ll get high marks for professional-looking results.

Patience is a virtue.
You’ve completed your mission to fix every imperfection with patching compound. Now, make sure it’s dry. Then sand smooth, prime, and you’ll have a surface good enough for any pro.

Healthy eating and drinking on a budget

Having a your own garden has many health benefits – and is very cost effective as well. You may have to spend a few bucks to get all the equipment you need, but after that your garden can become a money saving machine.

Not only will you be able to make homemade meals and drinks from homemade vegetables, but having in the garden calls for exercise and spending time outside on nice sunny days.

What makes having a garden so cost effective and so potentially healthy, is that it dramatically reduces the cost of juicing your own vegetables – something that can become extremely costly but many people still do because of the extreme health benefits that it provides. Juicing and drinking your own vegetables has several advantages over eating vegetables or drinking store bought juice, and different vegetables have different benefits.

For instance, cabbage juice, though not so tasty, is very rich in vitamin U and is widely known for its amazing ulcer healing capabilities, while juicing zucchini can help with bladder problems, can act as a body coolant, and is a good internal cleanser.

All vegetables have their own unique benefits, and the advantage of having your own garden is that you can grow vegetables, juice your own vegetable, and create new and unique recipes at will – all on a budget. Not to mention make tomato sauce, stir fry’s, and anything else that involves vegetables and eating.

The Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

Environmentalists have been admonishing us for years to conserve fuel to lessen our impact on the planet. Some of us have taken heed by walking, biking, carpooling, combining trips, or trading in our SUVs for hybrids. While you probably appreciate these efforts, frankly, the majority of us didn’t change. That was until gas prices hit an all-time high last year. As a result, people actually modified their behaviors to conserve gas. The fact that it was a boon to the environment wasn’t the catalyst, although the effect was the same. Put simply, sometimes it takes a hit to the wallet to rustle up real change.

Now that the entire economy is in a slump, people are responding by tightening up and reducing consumption in general—not just at the pump. The cost of everything seems to be higher these days, especially at the grocery store, a trip you can’t skip. Maybe you can skip it, or at least drastically slash your bill, by growing your own food.

Growing fruits and vegetables seems overwhelming to most people, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. (Plus you don’t have to trade in your suburban or urban lifestyle for a life in the sticks in the name of self-sufficiency or savings.) All you need is a few square feet of the great outdoors, a water source, and a little time. Your grandparents did it, and so can you.

If you still aren’t convinced, consider these benefits of backyard gardening:

  1. Improve your family’s health. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you and your family can do to stay healthy. When they’re growing in your backyard, you won’t be able to resist them, and their vitamin content will be at their highest levels as you bite into them straight from the garden. Parents, take note: A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown produce were more than twice as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day—and to like them more—than kids who rarely or never ate homegrown produce.
  2. Save money on groceries. Your grocery bill will shrink as you begin to stock your pantry with fresh produce from your backyard. A packet of seeds can cost less than a dollar, and if you buy heirloom, non-hybrid species, you can save the seeds from the best producers, dry them, and use them next year. If you learn to dry, can, or otherwise preserve your summer or fall harvest, you’ll be able to feed yourself even when the growing season is over.
  3. Reduce your environmental impact. Backyard gardening helps the planet in many ways. If you grow your food organically, without pesticides and herbicides, you’ll spare the earth the burden of unnecessary air and water pollution, for example. You’ll also reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from the transport of fresh produce from all over the world (in planes and refrigerated trucks) to your supermarket.
  4. Get outdoor exercise. Planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting add purposeful physical activity to your day. If you have kids, they can join in, too. Be sure to lift heavy objects properly, and to stretch your tight muscles before and after strenuous activity. Gardening is also a way to relax, de-stress, center your mind, and get fresh air and sunshine.
  5. Enjoy better-tasting food. Fresh food is the best food! How long has the food on your supermarket shelf been there? How long did it travel from the farm to your table? Comparing the flavor of a homegrown tomato with the taste of a store-bought one is like comparing apples to wallpaper paste. If it tastes better, you’ll be more likely to eat the healthy, fresh produce that you know your body needs.
  6. Build a sense of pride. Watching a seed blossom under your care to become food on your and your family’s plates is gratifying. Growing your own food is one of the most purposeful and important things a human can do—it’s work that directly helps you thrive, nourish your family, and maintain your health. Caring for your plants and waiting as they blossom and “fruit” before your eyes is an amazing sense of accomplishment!
  7. Stop worrying about food safety. With recalls on peanut butter, spinach, tomatoes and more, many people are concerned about food safety in our global food marketplace. When you responsibly grow your own food, you don’t have to worry about contamination that may occur at the farm, manufacturing plant, or transportation process. This means that when the whole world is avoiding tomatoes, for example, you don’t have to go without—you can trust that your food is safe and healthy to eat.
  8. Reduce food waste. Americans throw away about $600 worth of food each year! It’s a lot easier to toss a moldy orange that you paid $0.50 for than a perfect red pepper that you patiently watched ripen over the course of several weeks. When it’s “yours,” you will be less likely to take it for granted and more likely to eat it (or preserve it) before it goes to waste.

Even if you don’t have big backyard—or any yard for that matter—you can still grow food. Consider container gardening if you have a sunny balcony or patio or an indoor herb garden on a windowsill. You’ll be amazed at how many tomatoes or peppers can grow out of one pot. Or find out if your city has a community garden, where you can tend to your very own plot. Check out www.CommunityGarden.org to locate a community garden near you.

If you need more inspiration, read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which chronicles her family’s yearlong commitment to feeding themselves. In beautiful prose, she describes how they grew or raised close to everything they ate, and by the end of the year, they didn’t want to quit!

Whatever your motivation for breaking ground on your own backyard garden, chances are good that you’ll take pleasure in this new healthy hobby, and that your wallet, the environment, your body, and your taste buds will thank you! Bj

Cold Frame

Successful seed-starting takes infrastructure, be it a tricked-out heated glass greenhouse or a fluorescent shop-light setup in your basement. Either extreme–or anywhere in between–can work beautifully. However, in my experience, the solutions that are most likely to be implemented by busy gardeners are those that feel accessible and do-able in occasional spare moments.

This post covers one such solution: a cold frame constructed from easy-to-find, fairly inexpensive materials.

THE QUICK-AND-EASY COLD FRAME

I’m a huge fan of cold frames. Not only do they hold miraculous quantities of promising green growth within their simple walls, they also are easy to build and will happily bring through the winter many servings of cold-hardy crops like spinach, scallions, tatsoi, and mache. Here’s a cold frame that a reasonably handy person with some power tools can put together for about $100 with materials from a local lumberyard (or, unfortunately, big box store–see below). In one season alone, you can easily produce several hundred dollars worth of seedlings in this frame’s roomy 32 square feet.

Materials List

* 2 pieces 8-foot-long, 26-inch-wide TUFTEX polycarbonate panels — $40
* 2 packs closure strips — $10
* 1 box TUFTEX screws — $6
* roll of tape sealant (often used for metal roof panel overlap joints and similar) or some silicone caulk — $10
* 2 pieces 8-foot 2×12 SPF lumber — $20
* 1 piece 8-foot 2×8 SPF lumber — $8
* 7 pieces 8-foot 2×2 SPF lumber, as straight as you can find — $13
* exterior-grade drywall screws: 1-5/8? and 3? — $6
* Hinges – $6

Tools List

* Circular Saw
* Drill with 3/16? drill bit, Philips head driver bit, and 1/4? hex driver bit
* Optional but makes things a little easier: Chop Saw

All of these materials can be obtained from Evergreen Supply.  I like to give as much of my business as possible to my local lumberyard, as I appreciate having a locally owned lumberyard so close to home. I want to support them.

Once you’ve assembled your materials, here’s what to do:

1. Cut each TUFTEX panel in half so that you end up with four panels that are each 26? wide by 48? tall. This is best accomplished with a circular saw, though tin snips will also do the job.

2. Arrange the four panels so that they are spread out across a flat surface with the last rib on one panel overlapping the first rib on the next. Try to get them as straight and square as possible.

3. Measure the distance from the bottom of the first space-between-two-ribs to the bottom of the last space-between-two-ribs. This should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 feet. It won’t be exact, but that’s okay.

Make the Frame for the Lid

1. Miter cut the ends of two of the 8-foot 2×2s at 45-degree angles, like a picture frame’s corners.

2. Cut one of the other 2×2s in half. Miter cut the ends so that the long edges are 48?, like a picture frame’s corners.

3. Attach the 2×2s at the mitered corners by pre-drilling to prevent splitting and then attaching the ends together using 1-5/8? screws or similar. The result should be a giant picture frame, basically.

4. Cut another 2×2 to about 93? in length. Don’t cut it too short! Place it in the center of the frame, centered 24? from top and bottom corners. This creates a middle horizontal support parallel to the other long sides of the frame; this will prevent the frame from sagging under the weight of adhered interior dew or exterior snow loads.

Finish the Lid

1. Using the drill bit, pre-drill holes in every other “valley” of each panel’s ribbing along the top and bottom edges.

2. Place strips of tape sealant along the top surface of the short sides of the frame. (Or, use silicone to seal this seam after step four. Place TUFTEX closure strips along the tops of the long sides of the frame.

3. Line up the panels on the frame so that they are overlapping and cover the entire frame, setting them on top of the closure strips. Set the final “valleys” set so they are resting on the tape sealant (or, again, you can fill this seam with silicone caulk). This won’t be a perfect match–the edges of the valleys will touch the sides of the frames, but they won’t rest on it nicely. This is okay. Just be sure this gap is sealed (it may take a few layers of tape sealant, some applied after the cover is attached.

4. Attach the panels using the TUFTEX fasteners and the hex-head driver bit.

Make the cold frame box

1. Cut one of the 8-foot 2×12’s into 2 45? lengths.

2. Using a straight edge, draw a line from the top corner of one end of the length to a mark at 7-1/4? from the bottom corner of the other end. Cutting on this line will create a side to the cold frame that will slope exactly from the rear 2×12 wall to the front 2×8 wall.

3. Using a circular saw, cut along this line. Be careful–it can be tricky to perform this cut, as it’s something of a ripping cut that sort of follows the grain.

4. Repeat for other 45? length.

5. Position the pieces of the cold frame. The two 8-foot pieces of lumber are parallel, with the two 45-inch pieces of sloping lumber forming the sides, with the un-ripped side up. These smaller pieces should be “inside” the 8-foot pieces so that, when sandwiched, the entire length of the side is 48? (including the 1-1/2? for the ends of both the rear and front walls).

6. Pre-drill holes and attach all sides of the frame using the 3? screws.

7. Half-way down the short sides of the cold frame, attach a spare piece of wood to the inside top edge, flush with the sloping surface of the side.

8. Flip the cold frame over. Cut one of the three remaining 2×2’s into 2 45? lengths. Match these up with the undersides of the lumber that makes the frame and attach with the 3? screws. This will be the “ground floor” of your cold frame that will slowly rot over several years. After it’s rotted, simply detach and replace with a new “ground floor.” The rest of the cold frame will last for about 20 years or so if left out–maybe more if stored well when not in use. (The ground floor is not shown in the accompanying photos.)

Put the Lid on the Cold Frame

1. Set the lid on the cold frame, matching up the corners with the frame.

2. Attach to the cold frame using a couple of long rectangular hinges and short screws.

3. If the lid does not sit squarely on the frame, purchase and install a latch to hold it snug.

VOILA! A functional cold frame that can be built in an afternoon for around a hundred bucks. Fill it with trays and go to town! You’ll find endless uses for it.

Pipes full of strawberries

I enjoy strawberries and have grown them in the usual manner in the past. (I still have evidence from that growing as weeds in the yard.) I was always dismayed at the amount of space they took up and sought another way. I had heard of strawberry jars and thought about that and then I saw hydroponically grown strawberries and thought that if it they’ll grow in a jar with soil and a pipe with liquid, maybe they grow in a pipe with soil. This is my third year experimenting with this method and it seems to be working much better now.

I use about a four foot section of 6″ PVC pipe, capped both ends and drilled ten 1 1/2″ holes along one side. There is also a small 1/4″ hole drilled into one of the caps for drainage. The pipes are filled vertically. The growing medium is sifted compost and peat moss. I used bare root strawberry plants. I filled the tube up to the first hole, added a plant, then more soil to the next hole add a plant until all holes were filled. Then the pipe is topped off and capped. The caps are snug, not permanently glued.

I used concrete blocks to provide a stable support for them when laying horizonally, but plan to use another structure to create a larger wall of strawberries. I water when the soil is dry to the touch and let nature take its course. The plants have set out runners that I may try to root and use them to fill next years tubes.

The best thing is there have been zero slugs and no dirty berries!

Garden Projects for Early Spring

   
        
 

A few early preparations for the spring
gardening season will bring benefits all
year long.

   
 
The urge to garden in early spring is primal. Re-connecting with the earth is affirming, renewing, promising. Waking up the garden to a new growing season is about more than soil and seedlings…this rite of spring is a tonic to the gardener as well.
 ~ early spring garden & yard tasks
  clear drainage ditches
Leaves and debris gather in drainage areas over the winter. Now is the time to ensure that the spring rains will have adequate runoff. Spring seedlings do best in soil which drains well. Because vegetative growth is at a low point in early spring, this is the easiest time of year for clearing drainage ditches. And be sure to put the cleared material, usually dead leaves and small branches, into the compost. Spring compost piles are commonly short on carbon-rich materials, and every addition helps.

repair any bowed sides to raised beds. fix trellises and fencing.
Soggy winter soil puts a strain on raised beds; sometimes a stake will rot and give way. Any bowed or leaning sides should be fixed now. Dig back the soil behind the bowed side and drive in new stakes on the inside of the sideboards with a slight inward lean. Push sideboards up to stakes and fasten well with screws or nails. If you prefer you can  replace old raised beds with newer models.

Trellises and fencing are also easiest to repair in early spring, with less growth to work around and fewer roots to disturb. Setting new fenceposts, however, is best done after the spring rains have had a chance to drain through the ground. If the water table is too high, post holes will fill with water as you try to dig.

weed young spring weeds. mulch bare spots in beds.
Any weeds which appear in your garden beds will be easiest to pull now, as the roots are shallow. Covering bare spots with mulch or ground cover will minimize the emergence of new weeds. A depth of 3 to 4 inches is usually sufficient. Black plastic sheeting can also be used to cover the beds before planting as a way to suppress emerging weeds. To help prevent rot, keep mulch a few inches away from tree trunks and the crowns and stems of plants.

when it’s dry enough, ‘top dress’ beds
with compost or well-seasoned manure in preparation for planting. Resist the urge to dig the bed; established beds have a complex soil ecosystem which is best left undisturbed. Nutrients added from the top will work their way down into the soil.

early spring is the time for lime.
Soils with a pH below 6.2 will benefit from the addition of lime. Dolomite is the finest grind, and is recommended. With ground limestone it will take twice as long for plants to derive any benefit from it. Ideally, lime should be added several weeks before planting. Hydrate lime, or “quick lime”, is not recommended, as it can change the soil pH so rapidly that plants may be damaged. Cover newly limed beds with plastic during heavy spring rains to prevent runoff. Soil pH can be determined by using a soil pH test kit.

prepare your lawn for spring.
Rake the lawn to remove dead growth and winter debris. This helps bring light and air to the soil level, encouraging the grass to grow. Re-seed bare patches of lawn. Rake bare spots firmly with a metal rake before seeding. Sprinkle grass seed into a bucket of soil and spread evenly over the bare spot. Keep well-watered until seeds germinate and the new grass establishes. Pre-emergent herbices such as corn gluten may be applied now.

thin dead foliage of ornamental grasses and ferns. pull vegetable plant skeletons.
Once new growth begins. it becomes difficult to thin ornamentals without damaging the plant. New growth will quickly replace the culled foliage. And if you didn’t get around to this last fall, pull the old tomato, squash and other plant skeletons to clear the bed for planting.

 ~ vegetables and flowers
  plant early spring vegetables when soil is workable.
Soil is ready for gardening once it is free of ice crystals and crumbles easily. Soil that is too wet is easily compacted, reducing beneficial soil aeration. Common early spring crops are peas, spinach, lettuces and leeks. For a prolonged harvest, plant several varieties, each with a different maturation date. Follow these crops with broccoli, cabbage, radishes, kale, turnips, new potatoes and onions. Mulch early bulbs if you live in areas where freezing temperatures hang on.

protect seedlings from hard frosts.
Early spring plantings are vulnerable to hard frost which can set in overnight. If you expect a hard frost, cover seedlings overnight with anything you have on hand – an overturned bucket or cardboard box (with a rock on top) or large flower pot, a portable garden cloche.

be one step ahead of the cabbage moth.
Once the frosts are gone, the cabbage moth may appear. It lays eggs against the lower stems of brassica seedlings – cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprout, kale, cauliflower. Once the eggs hatch, the seedlings lose vigor and often die. Be prepared to protect these crops from root maggots by covering plantings with row covers or applying small pieces of barrier paper around the seedling stem base. Maggots are more of a problem in cool, wet soils.

plant out daffodils, lilies, crocus, hyacinth and any other bulbs,
which were forced in pots or bowls in the house. Some may bloom next spring, others may take two or three years to rebuild enough food reserve to support flowering.

divide perennials. clear and mulch perennial beds.
For easier handling try to time the division so emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Prepare new beds for perennial flowers by spreading a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure) and work in deeply. Plants growing in deep, rich soil are less likely to suffer from summer drought. Existing perennial beds can be cleared of old plant debris and mulched to prevent weed growth. Mulch should be applied around, but not over the sprouting root mass of each plant.

Stakes can also be put in the ground now for sprouting perennials such as asparagrus, which may need support for it’s tall ferns later in the season in gardens exposed to wind.

 ~ shrubs and trees 
  prune out dead or damaged branches
of trees and shrubs after new growth has begun. Cut back any remaining dead perennial foliage from last season. Prune roses just before they start to bud out. Spring blooming trees and shrubs, however, should not be pruned in late winter; their flower buds are ready to open as temperatures warm. Azaleas, forsythia, weigela, dogwood, and other spring shrubs can be pruned.

prune fruit trees.
Fruit tree pruning is best done in late winter or early spring. Prune well before buds begin to break into bloom or the tree may be stressed resulting in a reduced crop. Pick up and remove the pruned clippings, especially if you intend to cut the grass under the tree during summer.

remove stakes or relax wires installed on trees planted last fall.
Allowing a little swaying of tree stems results in sturdy yet resilient plants. Thin out some branches of trees which have a history of leaf spot diseases. Pruning will improve air circulation and penetration of sunlight, which in turn can reduce the incidence of disease. Remove tree guards or burlap wraps from the trunks of young trees or shrubs. This prevents moisture buildup beneath the wrap, which can encourage rot and promote entry of diseases. 

transplant any existing shrubs you want to move before they begin to leaf out.
Soil conditions in early spring are favorable to transplants because the soil is more consistently moist, which helps new rooting to expand from the transplant zone and reach out for more nutrients. To transplant, use a spade to find the edges of the main root mass, then dig down and under to loosen the root ball. Dig the new hole several inches wider all around, and add soil amendments such as compost or organic fertilizer. Once the transplant is set in place, filling in around the sides with lightly compacted soil will promote lateral root growth.

apply horticultural oil sprays to pear and apple trees.
Apply oil spray to pears just as the buds begin to swell and then again 10 days later to control pear psylla and pear leaf blister mite. Make a single application of oil on apple trees when a half-inch of green tissue is visible in developing buds.

also apply oil to ornamental trees and shrubs
with a history of aphid, scale or spider mite infestations. Destroying these pests safely with spring applications of horticultural oil will reduce your need for pesticides later.

Spring Cleaning

The arrival of spring brings forth the most solitary, hibernating creature. As birds begin feathering their nests, this lone critter prepares to sow its own seeds of plenty. Spring has sprung, and the gardener prepares for another year of bounty.

Spring Cleaning

Most people avoid spring cleaning, but to gardeners this is a very important chore. Winter leaves behind a collection of deceased plant foliage in the garden. This needs to be cleared away to hasten soil thaw.

Now is the time to check all garden structures. Doing the repairs now while the garden is still dormant is a good use of time. You will want to be sure that any supports are ready before the plants are.

Spring is an ideal time to prune any bushes and trees. The budding leaves make it easy to identify the dead and damaged branches. It also is a great time to shape hedges while they are still a manageable size.

If you prune branches that are more than two inches in circumference, you should apply a protective spray. This will help prevent bugs from infiltrating the tree and causing damage. Any major tree work is best left to a professional company.

Setting the Stage

Spring is also the time to prepare the soil. Blending compost into the soil will distribute nutrients throughout the garden. The topsoil needs to be well mixed if the plants are going to thrive.

Once the ground is ready, you can start putting in your plants. The first two weeks is a critical time for new plants; be sure to provide plenty of water. Install any support structures that plants will need. It is easier to train young and pliable plants now.

Tweet, Tweet, Buzz, Buzz

Most gardens would not be complete without the resident flyers. Like anything else, bird feeders need a little spring maintenance. Now is the time to clean out old seed and disinfect your feeders. Any damaged feeders should be repaired or replaced to prevent injury to your winged visitors.

If you are fortunate enough to have humming birds visit your garden, be sure to keep these feeders clean throughout the season. The nectar mix is very sticky and will collect dirt over time. Bees also love the stuff and sometimes will get stuck themselves.

The average person does not look forward to spring cleaning. Gardens do need a little tender loving care before they are ready to produce. Grab your work gloves, put on your grungy clothes and get into the garden.

Essential Tasks to Prepare for Spring Gardening

Ready, set, plan After the winter holiday season, most gardeners start itching to get back out in the yard and start their spring gardens. Unless you live in a mild climate though, chances are your garden is still under snow or too wet and cold to work. As a result, January and February are ideal months for planning, ordering seed, and starting plants indoors to be ready the instant they can jump into the growing season. Work back six weeks from the last frost date in your area to develop a timeline. The following list will help you get started before you set out a single plant. Do you want new beds? If so, lay out newspaper 5 or 6 sheets deep, then add several inches of compost over the top. This kills existing vegetation by smothering it. Four months later, you can dig it up to work the compost into the soil. No sod removal is necessary. (This is best done in December thru February.) Shop for seeds in December and January. Order early for best selection. If you snooze, you’ll lose. Assess soil. Buy a soil test kit or have soil tested. Most county extension services can test your garden soil or recommend labs if they don’t. Healthy soil is essential to a productive plant, so it pays to test especially if your results were unimpressive last year. Call to find out what you need to do and how long it will take, then plan accordingly. Check shrubs and woody plants. What needs pruning? For early spring bloomers like forsythia, prune promptly after flowering is complete. Fruit trees need to be pruned before they begin to blossom if you didn’t get to it while the trees were domant. If they blossom, it’s best to wait until winter rolls around again. (It’s okay to prune dead wood.) Do you have a lot of perennials? Do any of them need to be moved? Spring is the time to transplant divisions or move plants around. If you have friends who are gardeners, it’s a good time to arrange trades. Check your tools. Clean and sharpen blades on hand tools. Have mower serviced if you didn’t do it in the fall before you put them away. Budget for new tools or replacements now. While you’re at it, organize the garden shed. Clean, sterilize, and organize terracotta pots, planters, and starter trays. Sterilize using a bleach and water solution of 1 part bleach to ten parts water. Rinse thoroughly, then dry. (Remember to do this in the fall so you don’t have to do it when it’s still cold outside.) Clean and repair outdoor furniture. It may be too cold to paint unless you’ve got a basement or heated and ventilated work area, but at least they will be ready when the weather warms. If you haven’t broken the chemical habit, make sure you check any old chemicals you might have. Before you discard, check with your county or city waste management office for guidance on recycling or disposing of any hazardous chemicals. Provide or build gardening supports for peonies, tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash. Supporting flowers with heavy heads prevents breakage. Growing vegetables vertically saves space and prevents bugs and slugs from knoshing on your veggies. Sow seeds in starter trays according to package instructions and the last frost date for your area. Don’t get anxious and start working in the garden too early. The soil needs to be damp but not soggy or sticky. If you take a handful of soil and make a ball, it should fall apart easily when you open your hand. Also, setting out plants prematurely often results in discouraging losses. Planning and getting ready to go saves time and money you’ll want to spend on cool new plants and tools.

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