Does dry winter mean early spring?
Does dry winter mean early spring?
It might, but it is still early and temperatures are bound to fluctuate, with plenty more chilly temperatures ahead.
Thankfully, we finally had one good rain. But it was a lot in a short time period so much of it ran off. This points once again to the reasons to have plenty of mulch on the soil – to protect it from pounding rain, reduce erosion and then to keep the moisture in during dry spells.
Around the first of February we notice that the days are starting to get longer and with a few warm afternoons, it does start to feel like spring. I saw a branch of ornamental pear in bloom the other day and buds are definitely swelling on some stone fruit trees and other plants now. When there is not a consistent winter chill period for deciduous fruit trees there can be staggered bloom and fruit set. Early blossoms can be damaged by frost and pollinators may not be out yet if it is cold or wet. But if it stays cool the buds will just wait for warmer weather to continue opening.
It is still a great time to plant bare root fruit trees. The soil moisture is perfect in many places now. If a tree, shrub or perennial is not in the best place, this is a good time to move such plants or take divisions too. Think ahead about your garden’s lay out and if trees or other plants will be too close together, it is better to move them sooner than later. Water them in very well and if we don’t get more rain soon, make sure they do not dry out. Since the days are still relatively short, you don’t need to water frequently but newly disturbed roots should not dry out.
Early vegetable plantings can be a bit risky. As Sara said, slugs and birds are hungry this time of year and young brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, etc.) seedlings can get cold stressed then just bolt as the days get longer. But on the other hand, they might do fine. Arugula, mustard greens, bok choy, spinach, radishes and peas can all be direct seeded now if your soil is in good condition. Floating row covers will protect from birds but since they are opaque, you can’t see if slugs or other pests are eating from below, so keep peeking. Although these row covers can “float” right on top of the plants, sometimes this provides more protection for pests in the ground too, so suspending the covers with hoops or a frame of some sort might work better. It will keep plants a bit warmer as well.
Do take time to make a plan for your garden this year. What crops do you really want to grow and how much of each? Are there any particular varieties you want to try? Refer to your notes from previous years and talk with other gardeners and farmers at the farmers markets to get variety recommendations. Plan for rotating crops so you are not planting vegetables from the same plant family in the same places repeatedly. This can lead to more pest and disease problems. Figure out how to make sure you have space for fall plantings in late August and September, perhaps from a spring crop that finished in early summer? This puzzle can be challenging but fun.
And when you want to be out in your garden on a spring-like afternoon, search for hiding places for slugs and snails. In my little garden I enjoy having a half hour or so when it is relatively warm to pry out weeds with a hand trowel or soil knife, leaving as much of the soil that was on the weed’s roots in the ground as I can. The garden can be a refuge as well as significantly productive. So take a few moments when you can to enjoy the slight stirrings of plants waking up. Real spring will be here soon enough.