Carroll County Times
Carroll County Lifestyles

The Late Bloomer: Even during wintry weather, time to start preparing for spring gardening

As I write this, we are under yet another winter weather advisory and there’s still snow and ice on the ground from two weeks ago.

Is it spring yet?


In the wintertime, I dream about all the things I’m going to do when the weather gets warmer, and then spring comes and goes in a flash, and I haven’t done half the things I planned.

This year I’m going to try to do better. There are so many things I can do now to prepare for spring besides dreaming.

It’s not spring yet, but it will be soon. What better time than now to dream, study, and plan for your gardens?

Inspect: It’s fun to bundle up and wander around the yard trying to envision improvements. Do I want to make a new garden anywhere? Are there plants that should be moved? Are any spring bulbs popping up yet? (I was surprised to see the hellebores trying to bloom already!)

Decide what to plant: Vegetables? Flowers? Trees? Am I buying plants or starting from seed? Do I have seeds left from last year that might still be viable?

Buy early: Last year online nurseries were swamped with orders from people who wanted to try their hand at gardening during the pandemic. Many products sold out early. Some of the orders I placed took so long to get here that they were dead on arrival. I should aim to have everything I want ordered this month.

Supplies: Since I’m not making my own compost, where can I get some? How about tools – do I need any? Seed starting kits or grow lights? How about fertilizer, trellises, hoses or sprinklers, cloches or row covers, plant food?

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Soil testing: I learned from online research that the best time for soil testing is in the fall so that amendments can have the whole winter to mix into the soil. (That’s also the best time to add compost, but ANY time is a good time to add compost.) It’s also a good idea to have detailed soil testing done when creating a new bed. The University of Maryland Extension has a page with lots of helpful information about soil testing.

pH testing: Simple kits can be purchased to test soil pH levels. Most plants do fine with a neutral pH, but some plants prefer acidic soil and others prefer alkaline soil. Depending on what I’m going to grow, I may need to amend the soil for specific plants if I want them to thrive.

Yard cleanup: This is a good time to clear out garden areas, do a little pruning, and get rid of invasives such as honeysuckle, English ivy, multiflora roses, and poison ivy (If you don’t have trouble with allergies, you may want to leave the poison ivy alone – it’s a native plant and has many benefits to wildlife.) They’re a lot easier to see right now than if we wait until spring growth has started.

When to plant: Am I growing from seed or sowing directly into the soil? In Maryland the best chance of avoiding an unexpected spring frost is generally about May 15. If I can’t plant until then, when should I start my seeds indoors? Do I have to wait until after May 15 to plant directly outdoors? Some plants tolerate cold better than others. If I plant too early, I need to have a plan to protect plants from a cold snap.


Research: There are vast quantities of information online on every conceivable gardening topic. YouTube is an excellent source of gardening tips and demonstrations. Of course, there are also armloads of books and magazines, as well as online classes, forums, and groups. Mother Earth News has a current Collector’s Edition on organic gardening that’s brimming with valuable information. The Carroll County Master Gardeners aren’t having their annual “Grow It, Eat It” classes due to the pandemic, but their Facebook page is a valuable resource. But I have to be careful not to use research as an excuse not to get outside and do some actual work.

It’s not spring yet, but it will be soon. What better time than now to dream, study, and plan? This is also an excellent way to ward off the winter/pandemic blues.

Judy Hake writes from Union Bridge. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month. You can reach her at