For many gardeners, the winter months can be a trying time. We find ourselves racing the sun after work, trying to complete the smallest outdoor task before the details of our surroundings are lost to night and we have to retreat inside. Your valiant efforts begin to dwindle and your once vibrant garden seems to fall into disarray overnight. Before you know it, December 21st, the shortest day of the year, is upon you. 

A light at the end of the tunnel! As quickly as our world fell into darkness, it begins to pull out of it. At a rate of  roughly 2 minutes and 7 seconds per day, the earth marches towards spring. Luckily, for those of us in Benicia, spring always comes early. While the rest of the country is trapped in an arctic freeze, most of California is waking up from its short winter slumber, and that means you should as well. Here are just a few important things you should do to get your garden ready for the growing season.

  1. Clean up!

    • Think of your yard as an extension of your house.  Just as your house has a certain amount of organization to it, so should your yard. Organize your tool shed and make sure everything has a place and is in working order. Along with making sure your tools are clean and organized, make sure that your yard is clear of clutter, such as wayward pots, branches and twigs.
  2. Mulch and give new life to soil

    • Early Spring is a good time to add fresh mulch to your garden beds. Whether it’s store bought hardwood mulch, local trees that have gone through the wood chipper, or leaves that have collected from the previous fall, organic matter helps breathe new life into tired soil. When dead and decaying organic matter is broken down by worms and microorganisms, nutrients that were stored in the previous generation’s tissues are returned to the top layer of your soil. Mulch also helps retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth. 
  3. Wage war on weeds

    • Weeding, for the most part, is an endless chore, but if started at the very first signs of spring you can save yourself from a hot, dry, prickly mess and an endless game of tug of war in the summer. Weeds will take advantage of the cool wet days of spring to germinate, so while their roots are small and the ground is soft you can dispose of a majority of the weeds before they have a chance to flower and spread their seeds. Keep up early spring weeding, perhaps adding a little pre-emergent corn gluten as an herbicide, and you will notice the quantity of weeds in your garden dwindle to a manageable amount. 
  4. Feed with fertilizer

    • As a rule of thumb, the best time to start fertilizing is early spring when shrubs begin to grow new foliage. An all-purpose fertilizer that is slightly higher in nitrogen will make your plants grow large and bushy, stimulating new leaf growth. As the season progresses, switch to fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus for flower, fruit, and root development.
  5. Prune

    • Pruning in late winter and early spring is advantageous for the health and structure of your plants. Pruning when plants are dormant can help you to see the structure of the plant without any leaves blocking your view. You can cut off dead and crossing branches and shape the plant to a desired size and form. Some plants that respond well to early pruning are crape myrtles, butterfly bush, Russian sage and ornamental grasses. Avoid springtime pruning of plants that flower early in the season such as camelia and lilac. 

These are just a few things to think about as you  get ready to dive into your garden this spring and get it ready for the upcoming seasons. Now that the days are getting longer and the sun is shining brighter, it’s time to get to work and play in the dirt!