We’ve made it through another COVID-19 winter marked by few social interactions and a lot of time spent indoors. Now that warmer weather is here and more people are getting vaccinated, things are looking up!
One of the best springtime remedies for improving your health and increasing your exercise routine is working in the garden. This can be especially true for seniors, who often face limitations with other more strenuous physical activities. Whether you are a senior or have a beloved older person in your life whom you could assist with gardening, here is a list of ten ways to prepare for planting and tending a garden this spring:
1. Take inventory of your gardening implements. Be sure all your tools are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Remove any old dirt or plant sap on them and then soak them in a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water for about half an hour to kill of any soil pathogens that might still be around so you don’t spread disease. Sharpen any dull tools and add penetrating oil to remove and prevent corrosion. Expand or upgrade your tool collection if needed. You should also replenish supplies such as fertilizer, soil amendments, and plant supports
2. Eliminate weeds and pests. Do a thorough spring cleaning of your garden and flower beds, removing any old weeds, debris, or excess mulch that you may have put down in late fall. Be sure to eliminate the weeds at the root level or they will come back to compete with your plants. Turn over the top 6-8 inches of your soil to reveal any dormant pests, such as caterpillars or cutworms. You’ll be able to see any hidden pests and eliminate them before they start doing damage. It’s especially important to remove any cutworms, since they’re one of the earliest spring pests to emerge and they attack seedling plants. Destroy any larvae that you find.
3. Prepare your garden beds. Reduce any soil compaction by loosening it through turning it. Use a tiller or sharp spade to work the soil to a depth of 12 to 14 inches. You can work in any well-composted leaf litter and other soil amendments at this time. Conduct soil tests to determine your pH and nutrient levels so you know what kind of materials are needed. If you have clay-based soil, it’s especially important to add a healthy layer of compost to improve the soil’s texture, nutrient composition, and moisture retention. Once you’ve added in any amendments, rake the soil level and water it lightly to release any air pockets and help it to settle. To prevent new weeds from getting established, you can put down landscape fabric with a thick layer of mulch.
4. Prune bushes and shrubs. Any bushes or shrubs that bloom on new wood could use a good pruning this time of year. Shape the plant before the buds break dormancy and the plant starts channeling energy into developing new branches. Be sure to sterilize your pruners before making the first cut so you don’t inadvertently spread plant disease around your garden. After you’ve finished pruning, it’s a good practice to add a little fertilizer to the soil so the plant has enough nutrients on hand to quickly heal its wounds.
5. Perform fruit and ornamental tree maintenance. Start by removing any winter wrap that was added last fall to prevent frostbite. In early spring, prune any trees that need it before they start producing leaves. This will encourage the tree to produce new growth. Remove any dead branches so your tree can naturally fill in any gaps. Spraying fruit trees with horticultural oil will reduce pests and prevent some tree diseases. You can relax any supports on newer trees so they don’t start growing into their wire and so they have more room to expand. Replenish any mulch around the base to retain moisture in the soil and to prevent weeds.
6. Divide perennials and plant spring bulbs. If you haven’t divided perennials for a few years, it may be time to do so in order to prevent overcrowding. This helps keep older plants healthy, since they have more room to grow and don’t have to compete as much for nutrients. It also enables you to inexpensively expand your flowers around your yard while improving bloom show. Simply dig around the perimeter of the clump and dig under the root ball to lift it out of the ground. Disentangle the roots and then evenly space the new divisions over a large area where they can be replanted immediately. This is also the time of year you can plant bulbs like lilies and gladioli.
7. Be proactive with lawn care. Have your irrigation checked for leaks and spray distribution. Remove any crabgrass before it forms deep root structures. Reseed any bare spots in your lawn, adding compost to encourage good growth. Consider using a hand aerator or a machine to allow your lawn to breathe more easily. You can also dethatch your lawn to remove any old grass clippings, twigs, and branches which might be blocking new growth and to help young grass blades come up. You can add a small amount of spring fertilizer, but don’t use too much or it may wash away in the rain.
8. Do any miscellaneous yard maintenance. It’s the perfect time of year to repair and power wash fences, gates, and trellises. While you’re at it, replace mulch around walkways to prevent weed growth and improve yard appeal. Catch any vines before they begin to take over. Remove any stray rocks and finish raking any areas that weren’t completed last fall.
9. Get your early planting in. Leafy greens and root crops can go in from late March to April. As soon as your garden beds are ready, plant those vegetables. You’ll want to hold off another month or so for the other crops, but you can start germinating some of them indoors now to give them a head start. Tomatoes and zucchini are examples of plants that can be started indoors now and later transplanted outdoors.
10. Start a compost pile. Setting up a compost area for your garden will go a long way towards improving its health. You can buy a ready-made bin or build your own with spare wood. Start putting all your organic waste in your compost bin to produce a rich compost for your plants. Aim for a good mixture of grass clippings, vegetable peelings, paper, and woody prunings. Be sure to turn your compost with a pitchfork every month to keep it aerated.
Once you’ve completed all of these preparatory steps, you’ll be in great shape to start the growing season strong. Plan to put in the rest of your warm-season crops (tomatoes, peppers, corn, and beans) in mid to late-May. Then you can continue enjoying the fresh air and warm weather by watering, weeding, maintaining, and harvesting your garden all summer long and right into the fall!