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It’s always bittersweet when nighttime temperatures become low enough to end my gardening for the year. Bitter – because I can no longer walk outside and pick fresh veggies for my dinner recipes. Sweet – because it was a bountiful year for my garden and I have plenty of items in my freezer waiting to be included in soups and pasta sauces.
Another plus to the end of the gardening season is that it’s the perfect time to plan for next year. The cold weather months offer plenty of opportunities to get a head start on your spring garden. Here are 10 tasks you may want to add to your weekend to-do list.
1. Evaluate This Year’s Successes and Failures
When spring is in the air and you have the itch to start planting, last year’s garden can seem like a distant memory. That’s why it’s important to take stock now while the details are fresh in your mind.
Did that new watering system work? Do you need to create a bed in an area that gets more direct sunlight? What pests proved to be a problem?
If you don’t already keep a gardening journal, this is a good time to start one. Keeping track of things like rainfall, fertilization, and new plants makes planning for next year easier. You can use a simple spiral notebook or purchase a journal designed for the task that includes help add-ons like pockets for seed packets and graph paper for designing your garden layout.
2. Clean and Make Repairs
Perform a thorough clean-up of leaves, branches, and other debris that has found their way into your garden. You’ll need to repeat this task after winter wreaks its havoc, but the more you get done now, the easier it will be then.
Check for any damage in your planters, fences, raised beds, and pathways. Take notes of what needs to be repaired or replaced before spring planting.
Before storing your gardening tools for the winter, give them a thorough inspection and cleaning as well. Now is a good time to sharpen blades so that your tools will be ready to go in the spring.
3. Replenish Supplies
You don’t need to wait until spring to buy what you need to get started with spring planting. Why worry about waiting in line at the garden center on a beautiful May weekend afternoon, or worse, having your garden plans delayed because of supply shortages?
4. Build a Cold Frame
If you’d like to extend your growing time, you may want to consider building a cold frame for use on those chilly spring nights.
A cold frame is a low wooden frame that has a clear plastic or glass top you can use to cover seedlings. This coverage at night helps keep the air and soil inside the cold frame five to 10 degrees warmers than uncovered spaces.
5. Create a Hotbed
If you want to take the cold frame idea a step further, you can turn a cold frame into a hotbed. Hotbeds use the heat given off during the decomposition of organic matter—such as manure—to create a warm goring environment. This article explains how you can turn your cold frame into a hotbed.
6. Build a Greenhouse
A cold frame works like a mini greenhouse. But if you want to expand your cold weather growing space even further, you could consider adding a full-sized greenhouse.
As with the cold frame, you can build a greenhouse from a kit or create one yourself. The sizes and styles vary widely according to your budget and the space you have. We like the many different options outlined in this article in The Spruce.
7. Start Seedlings Indoors
Another way to get a jumpstart on your spring gardening is by starting your seedlings inside your home. When you plant from seed, you have a much wider choice of plant varieties than you do at the garden center or nursery, and you can experiment with new ones.
You can use seed starting trays and grow lights to get your seeds going. And once again, your space and your budget are your only limitations in terms of how simple or fancy you want to go with your indoor seed starters. Check out this article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac for some great tips.
8. Warm the Soil
You’ve probably heard that when it comes to spring planting, the soil temperature is just as important or even more important than the air temperature. Did you know you can take steps to warm up the soil before planting? By covering your rows in plastic, you help the soil hold in the sun’s heat. Black plastic works best since it absorbs the heat more readily than clear or white plastic.
This video shows you how you can cover your beds with plastic and other elements and techniques to warm up your beds.
Late winter is the best time to prune and shape many trees and plants in your garden. Cut away dead or damaged branches in your fruit trees and cut back rose bushes and deciduous shrubs before spring life starts to show. This article offers a helpful overall pruning guide.
10. Create a Timeline
In order to keep yourself organized, you can use your journal to develop a timeline for performing the following tasks and others.
- Order seeds
- Start seedlings
- Clean and prepare beds
- Divide Perennials and bulbs
- Check hoses and sprinklers
- Warm soil
- Integrate compost into soil
- Test soil pH tested to see if you need to add any nutrients
- Purchase starter plants
A final step to preparing for your spring garden is to exercise patience. Don’t let some warm early spring days fool you into putting tender starter plants into the ground too early. You may lose them.
North America has 11 different planting zones. Each area is 10°F warmer (or colder) over the course of an average winter than the adjacent zone. Look for these zones when you are ordering seeds or buying starter plants. You can find your USDA Hardiness Zone here.
Taking the time to plan your spring garden will pay off in solid results. Most successful gardeners will tell you that they learn from their mistakes each year – and everyone makes a few mistakes. We’re dealing with Mother Nature and her whims, after all. Here are some additional helpful resources.
- The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook
- The Backyard Homestead
- Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre