On cold rainy days (which are PLENTIFUL in a southeast winter!), it can be tempting to think that work in the garden can wait until warmer days. Luckily, we’re in the south, and warmer days are often a matter of waiting until the following week. I just came in from mowing my lawn, a quick easy trim designed to cut down industrious weeds and clean up a bit of debris. But I’ve also been hard at work in the dirt, all in preparation for a spring that is just around the corner.
I don’t care what that groundhog said. My fields say differently.
Our last frost for the farm is estimated to be March 17. After that, we’ll be running full steam until our markets slow down in late May. We’re going to enjoy our “slow season” until then by making sure peak season runs a little bit more smoothly.
So what should you be doing in this garden now?
Clean it up! Get rid of any leaf trash, grass clippings, and other mess. You’re creating a clean slate for perennials to emerge and new space for annuals.
What are you planting? If you’re starting seeds indoors for summer, it’s time to do that now. Some of my favorite sources for seeds include rareseeds, Renee’s Garden, and Seed Savers, but be aware that many seed and bulb companies are exeriencing MASSIVE delays because of the pandemic. Summer flowers to consider include zinnias, marigolds, celosia, amaranth, cosmos, and gomphrena. Bulbs are also an option, like gladiolus, lilies, and tuberose.
Have you had a soil test lately? Or ever? Testing your soil will tell you what nutrients you have in excess or need to supplement, and nutrients are critical to optimum plant growth. My preferred time for soil testing is in the fall, but if you haven’t had one done recently or ever, it wouldn’t hurt to do one now. Clemson Extension is probably the most popular option for soil testing in the Charleston area, and businesses like Possum’s can help you interpret the results and make recommendations of products. If you’d like to garden organically, make sure they know!
Weeds are a problem. What’s your plan? Now is the time to get on those pesky things, NOT when your seedlings are six inches high. Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and sunlight. They also can be attractive to pests and other unwanted animals. So what do you do about them now? Get rid of existing weeds. They should be small and easy to pull. Larger weeds are no match for a weed hook now, but by midsummer, they’ll have you throwing up your hands in frustration. We also use a bit of landscape fabric as a weed barrier, but a good layer of mulch should serve the home garden well. You can throw that down now once the old weeds are removed to deter new weeds from growing. When you’re ready to plant, just pull it back, pop in your plants, and return the mulch around the seedlings.
Compost, compost, compost. You probably know that compost is recommended for the garden, but do you know why? That topic is easily a blog post or even a book on its own, but the main reason I value compost is its ability to improve your soil’s health over the long haul. Compost contains nutrients, sometimes even nutrients you can’t find in fertilizer. If your soil is sandy, it helps to hold in moisture. If your soil is clay or silt, it aids in drainage. Over a period of time, compost breaks down to provide your plants with necessary nutrients, and those same nutrients make the soil an attractive habitat for beneficial insects and other organisms. We incorporate compost every time we turn over a bed, and we also use it as a top dressing for an added layer of mulch (aka weed prevention). Not all compost is created equally. In fact, there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. Bad compost will contain a lot of trash, as well as active seeds. My first season of flowers, I was bewildered when I discovered a mystery crop of honeydew melon in my flower field. BAD compost. I see plenty of gracious offers of manure from all of the livestock and equestrian buffs in our area, but if you want to take them up on their offers, make sure that it is, in fact, composted manure.