Finally! The snow has melted back from my lawn and garden, revealing crocus, snowdrops and the bright green tips of daffodils pushing up from the ground. Honey-scented witch hazel perfumes the air and the sweet sounds of birds cheer up the grey, rainy days. The garden is slowly waking up from it's winter slumber, and it looks like spring is here at last. We're all itching to get outside and do something in the garden, and some of us are lucky enough to have already started. Indeed, gardeners in warmer climates may find the earth warm and ready to work, but for those of us in the more northern reaches of the country, it will be some time yet before we can turn our soil.
When early spring arrives, many gardeners have questions about what they can and should do, and when to do it. At this time of year, it's very hard for gardeners to be patient. If lawn and garden beds in your area have dried out, you may begin cutting back last year's growth and raking out debris—but start too early and you risk compacting wet soil. Before you begin working in your garden, reach down and scoop up a handful of earth. Is it moist and crumbly like dark chocolate cake? Then go ahead and get started. Is it wet and mushy, more like uncooked batter? Well then, it's best to put down your tools and go for a walk instead. Preserving your soil's structure is far more important than a tidy appearance.
In the garden, as in many other areas of life, timing is everything. So how do gardeners learn all the little tricks and bits of wisdom necessary to avoid costly mistakes and maintain a healthy and attractive garden? Some folks are fortunate enough to have a green-thumbed mentor—a friend or relative with years of experience and helpful advice to share. But not everyone is so lucky. Thankfully, modern gardeners have access to reliable, regional advice at the tips of their fingers. Many classic gardening publications and national organizations now maintain helpful websites with free and useful information. For example, I love visiting almanac.com, the website of The Old Farmer's Almanac. The almanac itself is a wonderful, old-world magazine, filled with the kind of useful gardening tidbits you might hear straight from the lips of the farmer, if he weren't so darned busy! And their website is a fantastic, online supplement to the classic yellow and white journal. Also worth bookmarking is the website of The National Gardening Association. This fantastic, free, online gardening resource offers well-timed, daily horticultural advice for gardeners in every USDA region.
If you are new to gardening, or simply feel like you could use a few fresh ideas, check your local paper for workshops and seminars offered at local gardening clubs. Come April I will be teaching a few classes of my own, and the number one book I recommend at my garden maintenance seminar is Tracy DiSabato-Aust's The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. Many, many books have been written on the subject of garden maintenance, and as someone working in the field of horticulture, I can be pretty critical of these books. This particular title is not only simpy and beautifully written, but it is also thoughtfully arranged by task and season. DiSabato-Aust so thoroughly covers all of the oft-overlooked details of perennial gardening, that I have come to believe her book is a modern garden-library classic. While this is the perfect gift for a young gardener, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden is also a handy guide for any perennial enthusiast.
Has the snow in your area melted yet? What are you itching to get started on in your garden?
Michaela grew up gardening, studying plants, and picking organic produce on the family farm. When she isn't spreading compost or pruning shrubs, she can usually be found writing articles or giving seminars on all things gardening. Michaela has worked as a gardening professional for 15 years and is author of the popular blog, The Gardener’s Eden.