How to Guarantee Your Garden Starts off on the Right Foot.

As winter slowly winds down, many gardeners cannot wait to soak up the springtime sun and get their hands dirty in the garden. Such excitement is not just good for gardeners, but can benefit the garden in the months to come as well.
Late winter or early spring is a great time to get a head start on the gardening season. Even if the gardening season is still around the corner, completing the following projects can ensure your garden gets off on the right foot.
Clear Debris:
One of the best things you can do for your garden as winter winds down is to clear it of debris. Winter can be especially harsh on a landscape, and gardens left to the elements are often filled with debris once spring arrives. Dead leaves, fallen branches, rocks that surfaced during the winter frost, and even garbage that might have blown about in a garden over a typical winter. Clearing such debris likely won’t take long, but it’s a great first step toward restoring the garden before the time comes to plant and grow the garden once again.
Examine the Soil:
Soil plays a significant role in whether a garden thrives or struggles. Examining the soil before the season starts can help gardeners address any issues before they plant. Ignoring the soil until a problem arises can turn the upcoming gardening season into a lost opportunity, so test the soil to determine if it has any nutrient or mineral deficiencies. This may require the help of a professional, but if a problem arises, you might be able to adjust the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and still enjoy a successful gardening season. Another way to examine the soil is less complex but can shed light on when would be a good time to get back to work. Reach into the soil and dig out a handful. If the soil quickly crumbles, you can start preparing for the gardening season. But if the soil is still clumped together, it needs more time to dry out before you can begin your prep work.
Initiate Edging:
Edging is another task gardeners can begin as they get ready for the season. Edge plant and flower beds, but be sure to use a spade with a flat blade or an edger designed to edge flower beds. Such tools will cut deep enough so grass roots that may eventually grow into the flower beds are severed. Depending on how large a garden is, edging can be a time-consuming task, so getting a head start allows homeowners to spend more time planting and tending to their gardens once the season hits full swing.
Fight Weeds:
Though weeds likely have not survived the winter, that does not mean they won’t return once the weather starts to heat up. But as inevitable as weeds may seem, homeowners can take steps to prevent them from turning beautiful gardens into battlegrounds where plants, flowers and vegetables are pitted against unsightly and potentially harmful weeds. Spring is a good time to apply a pre-emergent weed preventer, which can stop weeds before they grow. Though such solutions are not always foolproof, they can drastically reduce the likelihood of weed growth.
Though gardeners might not be able to start planting their gardens in late winter or early spring, they can still get outside and take steps to ensure their gardens thrive once planting season begins.

Be Patient Gardner’s: Too early to mess with the mulch.

A reader recently asked if it was too early to remove winter debris from under trees and shrubs and the answer is a resounding “YES!” Dead leaves and needles not only provide nutrients as they break down but provide a tremendous amount of protection to sprouting bulbs and young leaves on perennials that have new growth. Don’t tidy your landscaping, at least not yet. Clearly there is no specific date set for when spring cleaning can safely be done without frost damage to tender new growth, but in our tri-county area, waiting another month, holding off until around the first of April, is advised. One reader stated “but my mother is cleaning under her shrubs already” and when asked where her mother lives she replied the Willamette Valley. There is a significant difference not only in our growing seasons here but in our ground itself. Rarely will you ever find anywhere in the Willamette Valley ground that freezes solid. Yes, it may become firm at times, but that is just the top few inches. It thaws rapidly. Our ground, and thus all plants, freeze solid each winter so our gardening practices must take this into account. For gardeners new to our area who have traditionally gardened in warmer climates, this could be confusing, especially when the urge to grow, plant and nurture seedlings is strong when the days begin to get longer. An east side gardener is a patient gardener. The debris under your trees and shrubs needs to remain in place for a while longer. New growth will continue to reach for the light and won’t be hampered by leaves and needles. Be patient! Now that the first of March is upon us, it’s not too early to start seeds indoors if you have space. Good spring crops are peas, lettuce, and members of the kale family, including broccoli and cabbage. If you have an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, keep in mind that most seeds won’t sprout with temperatures constantly below 50-60 degrees. They’ll need bottom heat if you want maximum germination. I have snow peas blooming right now but they were actually over-wintered in an unheated utility room from volunteer seedlings which sprouted last fall. They stayed green and short all winter long, a month ago they started growing rapidly, no doubt in relation to the longer days, and now there are blossoms open. It was an accidental experiment but with peas blooming in February, I’ll try more of this “accidental” gardening next fall. Sort of like the fall sown lettuce experiment, it works. If you have vegetable seeds that were sown last fall and they are sprouting now, don’t remove their mulch, there is certain to be freezing days ahead and they’ll continue to need the protection. For those who have had bulbs in pots blooming indoors, don’t throw them away after they stop blooming. I’ve noticed  that many of the printed instruction recommend throwing these bulbs out after they have been forced to bloom at an unnatural time, please don’t. Simply plant them outside later this spring, it may take them a season or two to recover but they will bloom again. The patient gardener will see this works well, also. Until next time, enjoy the longer days and watching spring arrive.