Spring is almost here. Before you can get down and dirty in the garden, use this checklist to prepare your garden for spring weather.
• CLEAN YOUR TOOLS. Early spring is the perfect time to give your tools a thorough cleaning. Make sure each one is in good condition, sharpened and rust-free. It’s also a good idea to wash plastic pots used for such tasks as transporting plants. Wash them in a large tub with a 10 percent bleach solution to prevent disease.
• GET TO KNOW YOUR SOIL. Contact your local extension service or ask neighbors. Being educated about your soil will help you choose the best plants and soil amendments for your location. Test your soil with a pH kit, which can be found at your local garden supply store, for an in-depth soil analysis. Adjust as needed for the plants you wish to grow. For example, if your soil is too acidic, add pulverized limestone to raise pH levels.
• CLEAR YOUR GARDEN OF WEEDS. Begin weeding as soon as growth appears. Once weeds germinate, they can be particularly ferocious. The earlier you start, the better prepared you’ll be for spring. Add pulled weeds to your compost pile.
• TURN YOUR SOIL. Loosen soil in established beds. This allows air and moisture to penetrate to the roots of plants and eliminates weed seedlings. The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening (Reader’s Digest Trade Publishing, 2009) recommends using a long-handled, tined cultivator.
• REPLENISH MULCH. Mulch maintenance is an ongoing project. As you’re clearing it of debris, rake the existing mulch back from the base of your plants, dig in your amendment and spread your mulch out again, adding more if needed. Use organic mulch such as shredded leaves, hardwood or pine needles, depending on where you live. (Learn more about living groundcovers.)
• PRUNE. Contributing writer Jim Long recommends cutting back sage and lavender to about 6 to 8 inches above ground to keep centers healthy.
• BE PATIENT. We know you’re eager to get in the sun, but before gardening on the first warm day of the season, get to know your climate. Pruning, removing winter protection and sowing seeds too early can lead to unhealthy herbs. For example, pruning too early may encourage new growth that will get killed by a late frost.
Gina DeBacker is editorial assistant for The Herb Companion.