GREAT news for garden fanatics: you don't need to wait out the final frost of the season to flex your green thumbs.
According to one garden expert, you can get a jump start on your garden now without spending a dime.
Chloe Brooks is a garden writer and a home gardening expert at Triple Oaks Nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, New Jersey.
Though spring is still weeks away, Brooks is already planning her flowerbeds and container garden, following her plants' lead.
"Your garden is doing work behind the scenes," Brooks said, "but mostly your plants are being patient and taking it slow."
Don't invest heavily in a "jump start" now that will be destroyed by a freeze, Brooks said.
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Instead, try these five tasks that will save you money in the long run – and don't require any spending now.
"Let your garden be your guide," she advised.
Clean and Organize Your Tools
Stay out of late-winter winds, but set yourself up for success, by spending time tidying tools in your garage or shed.
According to Brooks, many gardeners forget about the chores they decide to delay when they put away tools at the end of the season.
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Now's the time to take care of tasks large and small, from attending to your lawn mower or de-gunking the watering can.
Now's a great time to remove sticky sap or caked-on soil from the previous season, Brooks said.
She also recommended wiping clippers and loppers down with strong rubbing alcohol so they're fresh and sparkling.
You can also apply oil or WD40 to items that have grown stiff from moisture.
If there are any tools that are in total disrepair, take note, so you can start shopping for replacements.
"Make a list of what you need and what you have," Brooks instructed.
This will give you a longer lead time to shop, instead of trying to solve a gardening emergency when your rusty clippers break in April.
Inventory Your Seeds
As you're taking stock of your tools, you can catalog your seeds, too.
Brooks said having a list of seeds at hand will help as you plan your garden's layout.
Pay close attention to the dates stamped on the seed packets in your inventory, Brooks advised.
"It shows the season that it's packaged for, like 'packed for the 2023 season,'" she said.
Older seeds can still be viable, but that varies based on what you're planting.
"Different seeds have different lifespans," she said, "so look up keep that in mind. Older seeds are less likely to sprout."
If your heart is set on a certain flower or veggie, you should definitely replace last year's leftover seeds.
When you're ready to shop, check the Facebook page of your local nursery, or call up your favorite garden center for in-stock updates.
Brooks said most garden retailers "typically get new seeds in just before planting time."
Depending on your climate zone, you may be able to start planting seeds now – just make sure you've waited out the last frost of the season.
Plant Any Leftover Bulbs
Don't feel guilty if you didn't get to all of your fall garden tasks before the first winter freeze.
If you have a stash of bulbs sitting among your garden supplies, go ahead and plant them right now.
"You might or might not get a bloom from them this year, but you will give them a chance to send up leaves," Brooks said.
Consider it a head start on feeding the bulbs for next year’s bloom.
Brooks said once your bulbs have sent up leaves, they're getting solar energy – think of it as "charging their batteries" – which will improve blooms in the long run.
Secretly, this is also a great decluttering strategy – bulbs in the ground are better than unused bulbs waiting to be planted.
"If they have been left too long and are actually dead, they will decompose and feed the soil," Brooks explained.
Raking dead grass and leaves does double-duty in your yard.
It helps your lawn look tidier now, after a long winter of no maintenance, but it also protects against late-season snowfall.
"Raking replaces any mulch that has deteriorated or been disturbed since it was applied in the fall, or even longer ago," Brooks said.
The dead grass "gives an extra layer of protection for upcoming hard freezes or surprise frosts."
But be selective in where you choose to rake.
Brooks said that, other than to cover your beds, you should leave your leaves alone.
"They also harbor many wintering species including pollinators," Brooks said.
She emphasized you should especially leave them alone in areas you’ve dedicated to wild space.
Plan For Your Planters
If you're desperate for a colorful garden project, now's the time to get creative with your containers.
You can repair, refurbish and paint older pots, so your container plants will be the best-dressed ones on the block.
And you don't necessarily have to use flowerpots, Brooks said.
Brooks is experimenting with a container garden built from large storage totes.
Her February project list includes adding holes to the bottom of those containers.
"If you picked up a lot of pretty storage totes during the last spring-cleaning sale, using the excess in your garden as planters is a great way to use them," she said.
You can also start small plants indoors as a low-stakes project, like flower seeds in small pots on windowsills.
It's a great way to use any older, less-viable seeds from your collection.
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Don't let your expectations get too high – but consider it a fun way to pass the time until garden season is in full swing.
"I’m so desperate for color I might try some years-old marigolds," Brooks confessed. "What a nice surprise if they sprouted anyway, just for me."
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