Navigating an Early Season in The Garden

Well, it certainly feels as if we’ve thwarted the groundhog.

Yet I have thought this many times during my life on the East Coast and ended up with two inch green stubs to harvest for an evening’s Caesar salad. Winter will bite back before it is all done, and neither we nor our plants will be ready.

Winter aconite sprouted only to shrivel up with warm temperatures this week.

Winter aconite sprouted only to shrivel up with warm temperatures this week.

So let’s play with the cards we’ve been dealt, take advantage of the weather and our increased motivation…but be cautious.  And speaking of caution, don’t forget the SPF – winter sun is wickedly seductive. With equal force it fills the soul and burns the skin.

Get your inside jobs done – outside

The warmer weather invites us to go outside, but we still have long lists to accomplish inside.  Those lists won’t disappear, but can be adapted to allow us to enjoy the weather.  Consider:

  • Taking your all your seed starting chaos out to a table on the deck or the stoop on your porch and enjoying a winter where the potting soil is warm under your fingers.
  • Moving those large waxy-leaved, scale-infested overwintering houseplants outside and giving them a good spray of horticultural oil without ever damaging your couch. (Don’t forget to move them back in again.)
  • Grabbing your significant other, a beverage and a couple seats outside and then grabbing pruners, chainsaw chains, loppers, spades and anything else that needs attention and enjoy the afternoon catching up with each other and with the backlog of tool maintenance you need to do. Many hands make light work, and this officially counts as a date because of the beverage and the sun.

Rejoice in tedious winter jobs that just got less tedious

You still have to beat back that brush from the back fence.  You’ve still got to get the grape vine off the shed.  Bittercress is starting to flower. You’ve just been given sunlight, warmth, and motivation to hit these jobs hard.

 

winterchores

Plan beds without the distraction of the growing season

With a sunglasses and several lengths of rope I spent a very happy Saturday mapping out new pathways and beds near the vegetable garden last weekend.  Warm winter days and on-site planning is a perfect pairing. You don’t need to move the rope tomorrow to mow, you can set up a little table and chair for your notebook, and bathe your face and spirit in the glorious gift of February sun without the bite.

Keep a sharp eye on coldframes & greenhouses

A 70 degree day in winter can cook little lettuces and beets with breathtaking speed.  It’s so easy to forget that you closed up the colocasia in a cold frame and it has started to emerge, or left the lettuces to sauté in a makeshift hoop house.  I’m afraid it’s time to get in a strong habit of morning and afternoon checks.

Hold off a bit on transplanting more tender plants

The soil is still cold and will need a bit more in the way of Aruba temperatures to coddle and encourage spade-damaged roots of herbaceous perennials.  Trees and shrubs are slightly different – if it’s seriously starting to break dormancy and it’s not a frost tender shrub getting faked out (like a hydrangea or fig), go for it.

Consider planting an early round of…

Spinach, peas, lettuce etc.… We don’t know what March holds, but seeds are cheap.  If these weather patterns continue, an early, early sowing of snow peas might give you the jump on your foodie friends.  If March comes in with a vengeance, you can sow another row in a couple weeks and serve those friends winter carrots instead.

baby-beets

As we navigate these wild days of late winter, there is one thing in particular I would ask you to do: Stop stressing, and absorb the fact that what will be, will be.  Some plants may be lost to the extreme weather fluctuations, but it might also be one of the greatest growing seasons of your gardening life.  Prepare for what you can, react to what you must, and enjoy the constant challenges that educate us as gardeners.


Reprinted with permission from The Frederick News Post

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By | 2018-02-20T20:40:51+00:00 March 3rd, 2017|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

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