Preparing for Spring Gardening

Yes, I said ‘Spring Gardening’, it will be here before we know it.  Our seed catalogs have already started appearing!  We can now start to think about gardening outdoors in the nice warm spring weather.  Anything that helps us look toward warmer weather and away from below freezing temperatures, the snow and ice that comes with winter, is a welcomed experience.  It is at this time of year that we can begin to prepare for a summer full of beautiful blooms and delicious gardens.  It is a good time to plan for spring gardening so that by the time we are ready to start our seeds or plant outdoors, we will have everything we need already, especially if you are ordering any portion of your garden plants.

Site Assessment

Photo of a site assessment from the National Junior Horticulture Association

A good indoor activity to do in the late winter months of January and February would be to plan your gardens.

  • Decide where the garden will be located
  • Locate gardens in close proximity to a water supply
  • Locate gardens where it gets the proper amount of light for the vegetables or flowers you plan to grow in that location
  • Make sure there is enough space for all of the plants to grow and they can be spaced apart properly, according to the directions on the seed packet or plant container
    • Plants too close together, can have problems with diseases
    • Air movement through the plants causing them to stay wet, humid, and warm, is the perfect environment for a disease to grow.
  • Locate the garden where the soil has good organic matter, fertility, and a good level of pH so that the garden is not too acidic nor to basic.
    • If you are concerned about the condition of your soil, you can send a sample into the soil diagnostic clinic
    • For information regarding soil samples, please visit your local extension office

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Beyond the location of the garden, you need to decide what types of plants you are going to be planting in your garden.  For vegetable gardens, plant what you like to eat.  Look through your seed catalogs to see if there are some new or different varieties that you would like to try that have different coloration than what you are used to or varieties that grow larger fruits.  Along with the selection of different varieties, select varieties that are resistant to certain diseases.  The disease resistant varieties are great to have because you will still get a crop when the conditions are favorable for a disease to occur.  When selecting these seeds you need to make sure that you are selecting varieties that will survive in our climate.  This is usually given to you as a hardiness zone indication, in southeast Nebraska we are in zone 5b for hardiness, further north in Nebraska is in zone 5a, with portions of the panhandle area being in zone 4b, the dividing line between zones 5b and 5a in Nebraska is roughly Interstate 80.

2013 USDA Hardiness Zone Map

I know that we are all getting excited for spring and would like to begin our seedlings indoors sometime soon, but it is still a little bit early for that.  Seedlings should be started indoors 6-10 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors, which should occur no sooner than Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014.  Stay tuned in late February or early March for my blog to feature tips on starting your seeds indoors.  Now is the time to order your seed so it is here when you are ready to plant it.

Winter Plant Care

DSCN5869In the winter months, many people start to really hate the snow and everything associated with it.  I am one of the few who love snow and all of its beauty.  I know it is cold and difficult to drive in, but it is a beautiful addition to our otherwise drab winter landscapes.  The problem with snow is that it can cause some very problematic conditions to our landscapes for the spring.  So here are a few tips to keep your landscapes in the best possible health through the snowy winter conditions, and remember spring will be here before we know it.

In the frost of early fall and throughout snow covered and frost covered lawns in the winter, we need to remember to keep off our turf as much as possible in the winter months.  Avoiding traffic on frozen or frosted turf in the fall and winter will help your lawn look better in the spring.  Pedestrian or vehicle traffic on the lawn in the winter can cause aesthetic damage that shows up in the spring.  Many times we might see tire tracks or even footprints in an otherwise green spring lawn.  Turf will overcome these problems, but not until later in the spring.DSCN5873

With deicers applied to the roads, sidewalks, or driveways:

  • Do not apply the deicer and then shovel it onto the lawn or nearby plants
  • Deicers can accumulate in the soil or on the leaf surfaces of many of our plants and cause damage in the spring to our plants
  • Deicer damage shows up as water stress on our plants in the spring
  • If salt damage typically occurs to plants near the street or sidewalk, cover them with burlap or canvas to protect themDSCN5874

For care of our trees and shrubs when snow accumulates on them:

  • Let snow and ice melt naturally
  • Don’t knock the ice & snow off to avoid breaking branches & causing further damage
  • If you need to get large amounts of snow off trees, carefully brush it off with a broom
  • If branches are drooping due to heavy snow, they will pop back into their natural shape in the spring

As for the perennials in your landscape, make sure they have mulch around them throughout the winter.  With the winter and snow, come the north winter winds.  Sometimes, this snow can be quite strong and it may blow the mulch away from our perennial plants.  Mulch is necessary in the winter, not to keep the roots warm, but to keep them a steady temperature.  It also helps the plants avoid frost heaving, where the freezing and thawing of the ground heaves the plant out of the ground.  Winter mulch should be two to four inches deep.

Be sure to take the time to ensure that your plants are continuing to receive the best possible care throughout the winter months to ensure their survival to next spring.  Remember, if we have a warmer day and we have not been seeing much snow cover, you may want to go out and water your trees and shrubs.  If you can’t get to all of your trees and shrubs, at least give the younger or newly planted trees a drink.  You can also start to get out your plant catalogs and decide what you may want to add or change in your landscape.  Plan now for early spring planting.  With care our landscape will look amazing next spring.