Have you neglected your garden this winter? I know I sure have. But now is the time to start getting it ready for spring planting. Here are several winter gardening chores you can do now so you’ll be ready to plant when the time is right.
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Winter Gardening Chores you can do outdoors
Clean up garden debris
First, if you didn’t take my advice on cleaning up your garden in the fall, (and I confess, I didn’t get finished either) you need to take a day when the weather is nice and finish cleaning out your garden beds. Remove all old debris and dead plants and clean up any leftover trash.
Any plants that aren’t diseased can be composted so you’ll have a jump start on some free fertilizer for later. (If you look carefully at the picture above, you’ll see some of last year’s tomato plants just in front of the chicken coop. Yikes!)
You will be surprised at just how many weeds germinated over the winter. My garden is full of them. Now is a good time to pull as many as you can on those nicer days when you are itching to get in the garden, but it’s still too early to plant.
If the thought of pulling all those weeds overwhelms you, maybe this should be the year you try gardening in black plastic. It has really made my garden much easier to manage. You can go ahead and put the plastic down now to smother those weeds. (See my pictures of the raised beds above. The bed on the right was covered in black plastic, the one on the left wasn’t. I don’t even have to weed the bed that had the plastic on it. I’ll just put down a new layer.)
And as a side benefit, you won’t have to water as often either. You can read my post on Is Gardening in Black Plastic Right for You to learn more.
Mulch walkways and paths
If snow isn’t covering the ground, you can go ahead and add mulch to your walkways and paths. It is a good idea to get this done as soon as possible because when planting time rolls around, you’ll be busy with other gardening tasks and likely won’t have much time to devote to this chore.
It can also be quite muddy in the spring around planting time, so if you have your beds weeded and pathways mulched, you’ll save yourself some laundry.
Are you looking for the best way to mulch you garden beds and pathways? Check out this post from Jami at An Oregon Cottage. She shares a great way to use cardboard and newspapers to keep down the weeds.
Add compost and chicken manure
During the cold winter months is also a great time to add compost or manure to your garden. This gives it time to start breaking down so your vegetables will be ready to absorb the nutrients when you plant. It also means that you won’t accidentally apply fertilizer to the leaves or stems of your tender vegetables. Doing so can burn your plants but it’s not a concern if you don’t have anything planted yet.
Build any structures you may need
If you are wanting to try a new gardening method, (raised beds for example) now is the perfect time to go ahead and research how you want to build the beds.
I would like to plant some lettuce soon, so I have been researching cold frames. Once I finished my research, I was able to pick a warmer winter day to get it installed in my garden. It is now ready to plant in, I just need to get the lettuce seeds started indoors.
You may also be able to spend this time building any arbors or trellises you may need. The book, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew has some great suggestions for how to construct easy trellises for your plants. This book has long been a favorite of mine and was recently updated with even more information. I plan on ordering a copy of the new edition myself.
Clean garden tools
The winter months are also a great time to clean any garden tools that have been neglected. Wash away any dirt and sharpen the blades of pruners and shears so the tools will be ready for spring planting and pruning.
Winter gardening chores you can do indoors
Even if your ground is covered with snow or frozen solid, there are still things you can do now to get ready for spring planting.
Decide what to grow and how you want to grow it
One of the first things you can do is go ahead and decide what you want to grow. Whether you want to grow a few veggies in a small raised bed, or just a few containers on the back deck, it is a good idea to make a list of everything you want to plant.
Check out the seed catalogs as they arrive in the mail. Circle what appeals to you. Keep in mind, if you don’t like broccoli, there isn’t much point in growing it.
Decide what you will grow from seed and what you will grow from transplants. Some vegetables such as carrots, beets, and radishes are actually easier to start from seed because they don’t transplant well. Others, such as tomatoes and peppers, need to be started indoors or you need to plan on purchasing transplants from your local garden center later.
Crops such as squash, zucchini, and beans are actually easier to just plant directly in the ground. There isn’t much advantage to starting them indoors. And can you imagine having to transplant a bunch of bean seedlings? So go ahead and plan to purchase seed for these vegetables.
Plan your garden
During the winter is the perfect time to plan your garden. You can take the list you made above, and plot where you want to plant each crop. This will help to ensure you have enough room for everything you want to grow. You may have to pare down your list if you don’t have room for everything. I have to do this almost every year even though I have a pretty big garden! I always want to try something new and grow All. The. Things!
Once you have your garden plan, go ahead and order those seeds. Many of the seed catalogs have limited quantities of some varieties, so order early to ensure you get what you want before they run out. I usually try to place my order by the end of January at the latest.
Depending on your gardening zone, you may be able to go ahead and start seeds indoors. In my zone 7 garden, I start my tomato plants around Valentine’s Day because that’s when my Grandfather always did it.
Many cool season crops such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts can also be started indoors now. These crops can usually be transplanted into the garden long before your last spring frost.
Learn more about gardening
As a gardener, you never want to stop learning and growing. These cold winter days are the perfect opportunity to spend some time learning about new gardening methods or researching how to build a new garden structure. For a list of my favorite gardening books, check out this post.
So even if you can’t actually get out in your garden and plant, there are still things you can be doing to get ready for gardening season. Pouring over a seed catalog on a cold winter’s night can be such an enjoyable way to spend the evening.
And if you’ve got your garden plan together, you’ll be ready to plant as soon as the time is right.
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