EXTENSION CORNER: Winter is good time to prepare for spring gardening – Gadsden Times

Now is the best time to review your records from last year and to learn from your mistakes. If you did not write down your successes and failures last growing season, try it this year. You will be amazed at the information that you can gather from simple notes.

Look at the varieties of plants that produced the most, tasted the best and cost the least. I like to draw simple diagrams of my garden so I can remember where I planted what, and practice crop rotation on a small scale. You might want to go ahead and order your seed catalogs and start researching new varieties of plants that you want to try.

If you haven’t already done it, now is the perfect time to finish cleaning up your garden from last year’s crop. Scrape and clean off tomato cages and trellises to remove old plant matter, pull up all of the residual dead plant material and pull winter weeds before they go to seed. After cleaning up, take some of those leaves that you have been raking from around the yard and spread them over the garden to add organic matter to the soil. This also will help shade some of the winter and early spring weeds from germinating and growing, and perhaps eliminate some of the hard work that is coming in the summer months.

Although this may seem elementary, winterizing tools is an essential part of gardening and saving money. Remove soil and other debris with a steel brush to prevent corrosion and decay. If the tools have wooden handles, remove splinters with fine sandpaper and apply a light coat of oil over the entirety of the tool. Many wooden handles will rot if stored improperly, costing money and causing headaches in the spring, so store them inside, out of the elements.

It also is a good time to drain the fluids from the engines of your equipment and do any maintenance that is necessary. Winter is a great time to take mowers, tillers and line trimmers to the shop for maintenance so that when spring rolls around and everyone is scrambling to get theirs fixed, you will be riding high with your perfectly running equipment.

If it has been three years or more, this would be a great time to complete a soil test. Soil testing is a simple and inexpensive way to gauge the status of your garden. Most labs will check the pH of the soil and perform a nutrient analysis, and give recommendations to produce a larger harvest. This can save money in terms of fertilizers, lime and other treatments. Remember, proper soil pH allows plants to take up nutrients from the soil and utilize them fully, making a healthier and more disease- and pest-resistant plant. For more information on soil testing or for soil testing kits, contact your local Extension office.

Lastly, many people do not realize that winter is the best time to plant trees and other woody plants. Planting now allows plants to become established before the heat and dryness of the summer kicks in. Generally, roots will grow as long as the soil temperatures are above 40 degrees, even if there aren’t leaves above ground. This extra time will ease stress on plants and increase the likelihood of them making it through the year. It also lessens the amount of care that you will have to give them.

Winter may not be a time when you can actively grow plants, but there are plenty of activities to get you through the rest of the season.

For more information on this or any other topic, visit or call the Etowah County Extension Office, 3200-A W. Meighan Blvd., 256-547-7936.

Hunter McBrayer is a technician at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M University and Auburn University.


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