It’s mid-January. The trees are barren, the sky is gray, and you’ve probably already quit that gym membership you signed up for. But guess what: that’s okay! Everything you need for a happy, healthy, and fulfilled 2015 is right outside those frosty windows: your garden!
When people think of a garden in winter, they imagine something cold, dead, and devoid of life. But that’s not so. Winter is an absolutely important time of year for your garden to regroup and get ready to regrow come spring. And you can help it along with three simple tasks that will ensure spring success, and summer rewards.
If your house is in one of the few states without snow on the ground, then get your boots on, your coat buttoned, and your gloves ready to go, because we’re heading outside. These steps can be done rain or shine, but let’s just pray for shine!
1. Break up the Soil
Photo courtesy of Jason Lee Design Studio, Inc.
I did say that it was ok that you quit the gym, didn’t I? Good, because this workout is going to happen in the garden.
Tools: What we need is called a transplanting fork. It’s a tool that closely resembles a trident, and is strong enough to go into the ground without disrupting root structures. In a pinch, a regular shovel will do, but a transplanting fork is preferred because it won’t chop up roots–which you want to be in great shape, so they can grow like crazy when the warm weather comes. Pro tip: avoid improvising by using a pitch fork with a curved end, because it doesn’t go into the ground very well and you’ll end up just hurting yourself (trust me, I know from experience).
What to do: Drive the end of your transplanting fork into the soil using your dominant foot. Gently work it back and forth to open up the soil. Remember, we’re just opening the soil, not turning it over; turning the soil over harms the roots that you want to keep. Open the soil in this way all over your garden, in every planting bed. I’m serious, every one. Feel that workout!
Why this step is great for your garden: All of those fall rains were great for your garden for a while. But now, the soil has saturated to the point of being full of water, like a soaked sponge. That means that oxygen/nitrogen can’t get down to plants’ roots, and access to those things is essential to their health. With the soil reopened, nutrients can flow freely down to the base of the roots when the spring rains come. In addition to opening the soil, now is a great time to sprinkle on some fertilizer. If you want to eat what you grow, I would recommend organic fertilizer.
2. Get the Suckers!
Photo courtesy of HGTV
Don’t be alarmed by this step’s name. The suckers I mean are the kind that grow on fruit-bearing trees. Even if you’re not a trained arborist, this is an essential and easy task to give your trees the best chance to yield delicious fruit come harvest time.
Tools: You can accomplish this task one of two ways: with hand pruners or loppers and an orchard ladder (which you can rent, as it’s pricey to buy). Alternatively, you can use pole pruners, which can be rented from any tool rental company. Pole pruners extend your reach, making a potentially dangerous ladder situation unnecessary.
What to do: What you’re looking for are those straight and thin branches that climb off of every limb that gets sunlight during the growing season. Prune all of the sucker above the first “knuckle,” or grouping of leaves. They generally look like little bouquets of leaves. Cut just above that cluster, leaving the cluster as the only thing left visible.
Why this step is great for your garden: It’s best to prune suckers now, in the winter, because your trees are dormant. If pruned precisely, your trees won’t even know the difference when spring comes and they’ve maintained their perfect shape. Plus, by taking away those unnecessary branches, you reduce the water/nutrient demand that your tree uses to grow them. Those extra nutrients and water will instead go toward growing bigger, tastier fruit!
3. Make a Spring Garden Plan
Photo courtesy of Jason Lee Design Studio, Inc.
Lastly, let’s get that list ready of all the things that we want to plant throughout the spring and summer that will make us happy and healthy.
First, find when and how to plant your favorite blooming flowers for your area online or in local gardening stores. Cultivate those bright colors that are only possible in nature, and bring you a sense of peace and wonderment that can’t be matched. Make sure flowers are by front doors, or seen through commonly used windows, like the one over the kitchen sink.
Next, start mentally picturing where the tomatoes, zucchini, onions, lettuce, strawberries, peas, and other vegetables will go. There are great online tools for planning a vegetable garden that can help you figure out how to use your space, even if it’s small.
Lastly, head to your local nursery or to an online seed company and buy your seeds! Right now is the perfect time to start seeds indoors so that come springtime, you have enough seedlings to fill up your garden beds.
It’s ok to quit the gym when you grow and eat a bounty of fruits and vegetables, fill your garden with beautiful colors, and work up a sweat in the garden regularly. Follow these three easy steps, and you’ll be well on your way to garden happiness throughout the summer, even though it’s still the dead of winter.
Top Image Credit: Jason Lee Design Studio, Inc.