Giving your garden a little love now will yield big rewards come spring.

Woman in a Garden with a Watering Can
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If there’s any time when I’m most likely to ignore my garden, it’s winter. Which is completely understandable, of course. The holidays take up time, the weather is not inviting, and I just want to snuggle up in this blanket that’s so soft my daughter nicknamed it “Heaven.”  

But while leaving your garden to fend for itself all winter seems like it won’t have any rebound effect, think again. Not only will you have more to do come spring, but it will also invite all kinds of nasties to live out the cold season only to resurface once the sun comes out. And since when is not gardening any fun, anyway? Here’s what you need to do now before spring has sprung. 

Seed You Soon 

Jake Wyman / Getty Images

Winter is the perfect time to order spring seed catalogs from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Siskiyou Seeds, and Kitazawa Seed Company—which has been selling Asian vegetable seeds since 1917.   

Take a Test 

While you’re at it, test the seeds you already have to make sure they’re still usable. To do this, wet a paper towel, then place 10 seeds of the same variety on top. Fold the towel in half. Make sure the paper towel doesn’t dry out. After a few days, if, say, six seeds have sprouted, then you’re good to go. If only two have sprouted, you probably want to buy a fresh supply.  

Start a Cheat Sheet 

Erin Kunkel

If you had problems or questions last year about growing plants from seeds, getting rid of pests, or amending your soil, find those answers now. That way, you’ll be prepared and pressure-free when it’s time to grow. 

Weak in the Weeds 

Weeds are favorite hiding places for earwigs, thrips, and other pests and viruses. Don’t let them go to seed or leave them alone. Instead, pull them on a regular basis before they establish deep roots and their buddies infest your spring crops.  

Prune to Bloom 

Taken from <i>The Edible Front Yard</i> Copyright 2011 by Ivette Soler. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Citrus trees like to be pruned between the months of February and April. Make sure your tree has stopped fruiting, and you’re good to go. (If you’re in a freeze-prone area, however, wait until after the last frost.)  

Dream On 

Thomas J. Story

Designing a vegetable garden is fun if you give yourself time, but not so much if you’re doing it at the last minute. During the winter months, let your imagination loose. Are there new vegetables you want to plant? Things you didn’t eat as much last season and want to replace? Also, think about what did best in your garden last year—do you want to grow those crops again? Finally, consider what didn’t do well. For example, perhaps your corn would do better in a sunnier spot, or your lettuce was in a place that was too warm and it bolted early.  

Spoil the Soil 

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If you didn’t grow a cover crop, you still want to cover your soil in three to four inches of compost, then add mulch, straw, or dead plant material. The worms will love you for it! 

Little Nasties, Big Problems 

Pathogens love to spend the winter in last year’s plant matter, only to come back again in the spring to ruin your tomatoes—or, in my case, French alpine strawberries, which all withered into inedible mush before they could be harvested. Be sure to remove any leftover parts of diseased plants and either compost or discard them. This way, you’re starting with a clean slate.  

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