Even though there is snow on the ground it is time to start thinking spring. Before you know it the snow will be gone and the spring gardening season will be upon us.
One of the first rights of spring is planning. This is best done in your most comfortable chair with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Get as many gardening books, seed and plant catalogs as you can and start looking for ideas, ordering seeds and making notes as to what you will be planting and where. Most of the catalogs are free upon request to the seed and garden supply companies. Just look up their websites and order online. Many vegetable plants grow better from seed than from seedlings.
One of the first outside jobs is cleaning all last year’s growth from the perenial beds. This can be done after the snow and while the ground is still frozen. The old stalks help hold the snow over the plants insulating the roots over winter. By removing the dead plant material before the plants start to actively grow it reduces the chance of disease spreading and any bugs wintering in the old growth will be removed. I do not compost the old growth because of the chance of perpetuating any problems.
I am in the fortunate position of having a friend who farms cattle. As soon as the winter frost is out of the gardens and they are dry enough to work, I will be digging in the organic matter to freshen up the ground for another year of growing. Remember that if you work up the ground when it is still wet it will tend to be lumpy and tight through the season. An old friend of mine with very sandy soil will be planting peas by mid March. I am at least a couple of weeks later then him before I can start working soil. Healthy soil is the key to healthy gardens, it’s like gas in the tank of your car, the more you feed the soil the more nutrients it has available for the plants. Also you want to work the new organic matter into your soil and loosen the soil so it warms up faster. There is nothing harder on your new plants than being planted in soil that was left over after last years plants died and dug up the day you plant them this year.
Late March is the time to trim your raspberries, flowering shrubs (the varieties that bloom in the spring should have been trimmed just after they bloomed early last summer) and rake any left over leaves and plant material up leaving the garden clean. Before the spring growth starts you can trim the suckers and cut most shrubs back by about a third. New growth is always the strongest and healthiest. In early April it will be time to spray dormant oil and lime sulfur. This will reduce the diseases and bugs that can attack the bushes and small trees in the summer and it is organic and safe to use. Those few days in the garden in March and April will pay off in garden performance for the whole summer.