Take a deep breath, put down the remote and get busy outside. We’ve made a list of 10 garden chores that can help save your sanity now and make the coming months much more pleasant. We guarantee seriously proud feelings if you can get even half this list accomplished.
A few tips before you start: Stay out of your garden beds if they’re still wet and muddy; walking on wet ground can compact your soil.
If you’re shopping for plants, call your favorite nursery to order by phone with curbside pickup. They will appreciate the business.
1. Weed, weed, weed!
If your yard is like mine, the muddy ground is thick with sprouting weeds that will only get thicker as the sun starts to shine. Any weeding you do now will save you tons of misery later this year, when it’s hot and the weeds are threatening to take over your yard. If you haven’t got one, invest in a hula hoe (also known as an oscillating or looped action hoe) or diamond hoe to quickly and relatively easily eliminate those weeds while you’re standing. (Diamond hoes are particularly effective but super sharp, so keep them away from small children.) These handy tools will save your back and tons of weeding time while leaving the roots of the weeds behind to slowly decompose and nourish the soil. And if the weeds haven’t gone to seed, throw them in your compost pile.
2. Start a compost pile
Collect dried leaves, twigs, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, shredded newspapers, even old potting soil, and get composting. Check out your municipal websites to see if they have guides or offer deals on low-cost composting bins (most do). Aim for a balance of carbon items, such as dried leaves and shredded newspapers, with nitrogen “green” items such as kitchen scraps and lawn clippings. Moisten the layers as you add them (the pile should be damp, like a wrung-out sponge, not dripping), and keep it turned. The more often you turn the pile, the faster it will transform to a rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling amendment.
3. Enrich your garden soil
Feed your garden bed with bags of organic potting soil, compost, aged steer manure or other organic amendments. Water it well, then let it sit for a week or two while the organisms break down the ingredients and “cook.” Give this mix a week or two to cool down, since planting right away could “burn” or kill tender seedlings.
4. Inventory your tools and supplies
Does your wheelbarrow have a flat tire? Is your hand trowel bent or blunt from hacking at roots or rocks? Are there holes in the fingers of your garden gloves? Now is a great time to check out your garden gear and get it ready for a busy spring. Buy a flat-free replacement tire for your wheelbarrow (much cheaper than a new barrow) or indulge yourself with a new pair of goatskin gloves. If you check all of this now, you will have what you need as the season progresses.
5. Create your own plant swap
Ask your neighbors if they’re interested in a plant swap. If they’ve been to the nursery, they may have more vegetable plants than they need (Do you really need six eggplants?), and perhaps they’d like to swap you for some onion starts or that lion’s tail, marjoram or cilantro that came up on its own. Swap at a safe distance, of course.
6. Try lasagna mulching
Convert a section of lawn into a garden bed via lasagna mulching. All you need is a pile of corrugated cardboard (flattened boxes are best), about double what you think you’ll need to create your space. The cardboard is candy to beneficial mycorrhizal fungi that help plant roots find the nutrients and water they need, according to interpretive horticulturist Leigh Adams, who created the Los Angeles County Arboretum’s Crescent Farm, lush with edible trees, plants and wildflowers. Lay down the cardboard thickly, water it well, tamping it against the ground, then add at least 8 inches of compost, organic potting soil, dried leaves, vegetable trimmings, garden waste (minus weed seeds), lawn clippings (in moderation to avoid matting) and/or wood chips. Water each layer and cover with at least 4 inches of mulch. If all you have is wood chips, make them at least 8 inches deep, and when you plant, fill your holes with potting soil to give seedlings a base to get started as the pile breaks down into what will ultimately become excellent soil.
7. Create a handy herb garden
Find a sunny spot as close as possible to your kitchen door and plant an herb garden, either in a large pot or tub (with plenty of drainage) or in a garden bed. Keep drought-loving herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender separate from more water-hungry herbs like basil, and water with a lighter hand. Add a variety of mint to your herb collection (if only for the mojitos), but consider planting it in pots, since many mint plants are invasive and will take over your bed. Do keep the herbs handy, though, so you can easily run your hands through their fragrant leaves as you walk outside — it will give you an instant pick-me-up.
8. Set up some deep watering stations
Prepare deep watering stations in your vegetable garden. Master gardener Yvonne Savio, creator of the Gardening in LA blog, suggests burying 5-gallon nursery buckets (the kind with the holes in the bottom) until the top rises just 4 inches above the ground. Plant around those buckets this spring, and as the heat rises, fill the buckets once or twice a week with water. Deep watering will send roots deeper into the ground, where they’re more likely to thrive when the weather gets hot.
9. Finally get those projects done …
If your garage is like mine, it’s littered with cobweb-covered yard projects, like the super-cool patio lights that never got hung, the deluxe smoker still in its box or the raised bed boxes gathering dust. With everyone home, set a time to get the family (or at least your fellow adults) involved in finally installing those well-intentioned purchases that never got out the box.
10. … like creating a shade garden
A shade garden can be a nice place to sit during the summer, but it can also shelter your vegetable garden from the sun’s harshest rays in the afternoon. Tomatoes, for instance, stop setting fruit when they get too hot, so set up a way to shade your vegetable garden when the temperatures start exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the easiest solutions is to build a simple PVC-pipe frame you can place over your veggies and then drape with shade cloth, or create a shade cloth frame you can prop up to shield your garden in the afternoon. Urban farmer Eric Tomassini of Avenue 33 Farm in Lincoln Heights uses 45%–50% shade cloth (meaning it filters out 45%–50% of the sun’s rays) to grow out-of-season crops like lettuce and 25%–30% shade cloth to protect tomatoes against the harshest rays. Save 90% shade cloths to create areas in your yard for reading and sipping iced tea.