Sweet Peas giving off their sweet fragrance for enchanting bouquets? Garden beds full and exuberant, with no bare spots and delightful Spring colors gracefully intermingling?
It’s easy to do! You just gotta start now - during January or February. Starting your garden in Spring (April- May) does not a spectacular garden make. Starting your garden in Spring means long hours spent pulling out weeds run rampant. It often means the surrendering to the urge to run out to the nursery and impulse-buy squat little plants already in bloom and plopping them here and there in soil you didn’t quite have time to improve. Well, you got some color now, but the plants aren’t doing so swell and it’s another Spring garden that’s, well .... kinda disappointing.
So here’s the deal - if you live in coastal California with our enviable Mediterranean climate, plan ahead. Fall and Winter is the time to start your Spring garden. Really, no later than February. Fall and Winter is the best time to start your Spring garden.
Pulling out all your weeds now will tremendously reduce your weeding time later. Weeds are smaller and easier to pull out during the rainy season. Remember, each weed pulled out now can prevent 100 weeds later.
If your soil is pure clay, dig the compost down to a level of 1 ½ feet at least. Don’t skimp in this department. Again, your soil should end up soft and loose. Remember, most plants don’t like to grow in clay - their roots need air pockets and space to grow, and clay doesn’t have any air in it. This is the number one mistake beginning gardeners make.
Good soil is always THE most important factor for a thrilling garden. You shall not dismiss it! Topdress your soil with good quality compost. Topdressing means putting a 2”-3” layer over the top of your soil. It enriches the soil with nutrients and other good stuff, and makes it nice and fluffy, the better for roots to grow in. The worms will rise to the surface to enjoy its goodness, further aerating your soil further down.
If your soil is pure clay, dig the compost down to a level of 1-½ feet at least. Don’t skimp in this department. Again, your soil should end up soft and loose. Remember, most plants don’t like to grow in clay - their roots need air pockets and space to grow, and clay doesn’t have any air in it. This is the number one mistake beginning gardeners make.
If you are buying pre-bagged compost, heed this warning. Don’t buy the cheap stuff from the box stores. A good compost should have some chicken or steer manure in it as well as mushroom compost. If you buy the cheapest, bagged compost, you’ll be left wondering why your plants don’t grow well. They are mostly wood products and sand and have very little nutrition.
While weeding and soil preparing, watch the light in your garden. Which parts get full sun? Full sun generally means at least 4 hours of direct sun a day. Keep in mind as the days get longer, partly shady areas may get lots more hours of sun later. Which parts of your garden stay shady all day? Learn about the light in your garden - it pays off royally when you’re ready to plant.
If you love to grow your plants from seed, sow them now. Most Spring blooming annuals like to germinate during the cool weather – around 50 to 60 degrees. They are called hardy annuals and love to grow when its cool and bloom before the temperatures reach the high 70s. Sow your seeds no later than mid-February and they’ll bloom in April to early May. Sow perennials now, too. Many won’t bloom until Summer, Fall or next Spring, but remember how beautiful your next Spring garden will be!
For a heart-meltingly beautiful Spring garden, think outside the box. Eh-hem ... outside the box stores and "garden centers" of variety stores, whose ho-hum plants can make your garden look like ... well, a gas station. Do you want to see the same flowers in your garden that you have to stare at while you’re pumping your gas?
There are a huge variety of Spring bloomers available only at quality independent nurseries. Look for our wonderful and charming California native wildflowers and hardy Mediterranean climate annuals. They thrive in our mild climate, and a big plus in using these plants is that they will self–sow themselves, giving you bunches of free plants next Spring (if not sooner), and make fun, serendipitous plants combos next season.
Always try to buy your plants small. Really! The smaller the better, as long as the roots reach the bottom of the pot. Don’t buy plants already in bloom unless it’s a party type emergency. Plants already blooming in a container are stunted, have used up some of their bloom time and will never put on the show that a small, non-blooming plant will. The smaller plant will grow nice, fat, roots – grow much faster, bloom much longer and will be much healthier. Resist the blooming plant!
Just like the books say, it does look better when you plant in groups of 3-5-7 etc. If you’re on a budget, remember that one blooming, self-sowing annual this year will give you 10 or more self-sown seedlings next year. A highlight or specimen plant may be planted singly of course.
Flowering annuals and perennials look best when there’s something solid and chunky to give your eye a rest. They make the bloomers stand out more, and they’re long-lived and easy to care for. Here are a couple of my favorites that don’t get too gigantic and work well in a smaller garden.
All these grasses should be cut back in November-December to about 8” tall to keep them looking their best in Spring!
One of the best reasons to plant during our cool wet season is the joy of no watering! Plants get to put down big fat happy roots with the deep watering the rains provide. Do remember though, if we hit a dry spell in Spring, you’ll probably have to water. Don’t let those little babies wilt!
You can greatly extend the blooming time of all your Spring blooming annuals by removing the faded blooms. Using clippers or little scissors to cut long-stemmed flowers back to the main stem or base looks best. If you want your plants to self-sow, let the last of the flowers go to seed and drop where they may.
There you have it - Ten tried and true steps for a soul satisfying Spring gardening experience! Now go out and make your neighbors jealous!