A little bit of gardening can go a long way in supporting the health of our planet. Whether you live in the city, suburbs or out in the woods, you can help local biodiversity flourish with a few of these simple spring garden tips. Learn how you can make small changes with big environmental impacts this season!
Soil is alive and its health matters. While you wait for warmer days to put your green thumb to use, consider getting to know your own soil a little better. Grab a handful of dirt. Does it fall apart in your hands like sand or clump like sticky clay? You can amend your soil either way to give those backyard plants their preferred type.
Many stores provide at-home kits to test the pH levels, or the acidity, of your garden. Knowing this information can help you narrow down what plants will thrive there or help determine whether you need to supplement the yard with different types of mulches or soils.
On the next sunny warm day, also try a worm count. Earthworms support necessary decomposition and naturally aerate the ground. Dig a hole about 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep. Sprinkle the dirt on a tarp or leftover cardboard boxes and sift through it as you put it back. If you count more than ten worms, the soil is healthy. If you count less, consider adding more composted materials to support their populations.
Mid to late March is, on average, a good time to start your seedlings indoors. While most seeds need 6 to 8 weeks to grow before frost’s last farewell and outdoor planting is on, check the package for more precise timing, as some seeds need more or less time.
Consider upcycling! Use paper towel or toilet paper rolls, cut in thirds or halves respectively, as starter pots for your seeds, but be sure to only water the top and let the sides dry in between waterings. When planting time comes, simply unravel the roll before it goes into the ground. You can also use take-out trays with holes poked in an inch-by-inch grid pattern at the bottom. The lids will also make a nice water catch.
A good portion of seeds, including vegetables, need diffuse light and constant warm temperatures to sprout and grow. Keep your seedlings near a secure draft-less window indoors if you don’t have a light setup. Plant about three seeds in a pot, as some will naturally not germinate. You can always thin them later should the seedlings get too congested. A little green goes a long way in beating those lingering winter blues.
Early spring is a great time to get out those ceramic and terracotta pots from storage and give them a good scrub down. It is important to clean pots before putting new plants inside, as often plants, pots, roots and soil may harbor bacteria or plant diseases that can spread to newcomers.
Clay pots that have been in use for a while may also display typical green or white splotches all over the outer portion. No need to worry — this is normal. As the plants grow and water forms pathways through the root systems and soil, the salt works its way out of the porous ceramic and crystalizes on the other side. Moss may also grow in and on clay pots.
Using a mixture of one-part vinegar and four-parts lukewarm water, you can soak the pots in a storage bin, kiddie pool or the tub for a half hour. Then give them a good scrub with a brush or metal scrubby. They will not only look spick and span this spring, but they also will be clean and free of germs.
As our fall-planted bulbs like crocuses and daffodils are sticking their green heads up and preparing to bloom, we can start planning our spring-planted bulb selections and locations. Gladiolus, dahlias, irises and daylilies are all put into the ground when spring warms up safely past frost and will bloom late summer and into fall. These particular bulbs also make the perfect choice for a pop of color in pot-bound urban gardens — when their leaves have yellowed, simply compost the bulbs or dig them out and store overwinter.
Be sure to shop for high-quality, heritage or heirloom bulbs to ensure they are free of infection and disease, as well as hardy enough for your zone. If you get your bulbs at a local store, avoid those with any soft spots and deep discoloration or those appearing very dry, cracked and shriveled. The papery outer coat and dried remaining roots coming out of the bottom are both completely fine and do not deter from the bulb’s health.
Most spring-planted bulbs are sensitive to frost, so mark your calendars for a warmer day in late spring to get them into the ground or a pot located in a sunny spot. In the meantime, however, store them in a dark, dry and cool place in a paper bag away from potentially hungry critters.
While some birds are hardwired to migrate only at specific times of the year, others have a more weather-related flexible approach. If the groundhog’s prediction is not quite on the nose and there are many sunny, balmy days near the end of winter, we may have some early visitors in the Northeast, including the Fox Sparrow, American Woodcock, Tree Swallow and Eastern Phoebe.
Early spring can be a very difficult time for both our fair-weathered and forever friends outdoors. The trees and plants have not yet produced this year’s seeds and blooms and the insects may still be hibernating. Food is scarce and the chilly nighttime temperatures can still dip below freezing. If you haven’t already, now is a good chance to hang a feeder or even sprinkle some seed on a small open patch to help support the diverse bird species found near you.
Those long rainy days of early spring are also a great time to build a birdhouse. The many different designs are each suited to particular types of bird — even those city-dwellers — so when selecting, consider which avian species are found nearby or that you may want to attract. Most birdhouses are fairly easy enough to construct for the amateur carpenter or interested birdwatcher. Use unpainted, untreated wood and galvanized screws for a sturdy, safe and long-lived house. Or, if you’re short on time, check out a local hardware store or bird-friendly shop for a prebuilt nestbox or platform!