As I’m writing this, the birds are chirping, the snowdrops are up, and it’s going to be 60 today. The gardening bug is biting! (The bug bites me all year round, but that may be just me.) Let’s start thinking of how to get our gardens ready for spring.
As hard as it is, it’s best to wait until our gardens are good and dry before working and walking in them. Especially in our clay soils, walking in wet gardens just compresses the soil and makes it harder to work with later. To see if the soil is dry enough, take a handful of soil from a few inches deep and squeeze it in your hand. If it doesn’t crumble but stays in a ball, the soil is probably still too wet.
When the soil is dry enough to go into your gardens, trim down the stalks of last year’s flowers and grasses that were left standing over winter. For big ornamental grasses, electric hedge clippers work great.
Divide overcrowded perennials when new growth starts to show. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt them! Wait until early fall to divide peonies, poppies, and irises.
Pull out last year’s containers and give them a good scrubbing with warm water and a stiff brush. Some people disinfect their pots with bleach solutions, but I don’t think that’s really necessary.
Start some seeds this year! Pick out a few packets of seeds at the store, save some to-go containers or yogurt cups to start them in, buy a cheap shop light or two, and you’re set. Check out the Start your own Seeds class at the Oak Park Conservatory on Saturday March 26.
Now is the best time to start a compost pile. (Actually, I say that any time of year.) Buy a bin, make one, or just find a spot in your yard you can pile up garden scraps. Adding organic material like compost to your soil is the absolute best thing you can do for your garden.
Think twice about bringing out ol’ Bessie the rototiller this spring. Tillers are great for mixing organic material into a new garden spot, but established gardens really don’t benefit from annual tilling. Lightly mixing in compost when you have it will let the soil form its own structure (and won’t slice up all the worms and other critters).
Lastly, sharpen up your shears and loppers, and prune your deciduous trees and shrubs. Cut off any broken limbs, any that cross over or rub against another branch, or any that are growing in weird angles compared to the rest of the branches. Cut branches back to a lower bigger branch or to the ground, rather than leaving artificial looking stubs.
You're off to a good start!
by Charlie Ruedebuesch, Cheney Mansion