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MASTER GARDENERS: Winter is prime time to prune, order seeds, prepare soil

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Master Gardener Loren Meinz says winter is the best time to prepare garden soil for spring planting. (Courtesy photo)

Master Gardener Loren Meinz says winter is the best time to prepare garden soil for spring planting. (Courtesy photo)

So, rather than winter boredom watching TV all day, there are some things we gardeners can and should be doing to get ready for the spring season.

First, if you have fruit trees, January/February is the time for pruning. After several years of my pruning efforts, my two trees are somewhat “odd” shaped, so this year I am hiring an arborist to give them a professional crew cut.

After pruning, consider applying dormant oil spray to rid the tree of leftover pest bug eggs that may hatch in the spring and invade your tree fruit. Dormant oil spray can also be beneficial to many of your landscape trees and shrubs.

These winter days, you should be receiving the catalogues for mail order seeds. I read those seed books as faithfully as my classic car magazine. I order seeds for spring and summer planting at the same time — it saves on shipping costs, and you have your seeds in hand when you want to plant.

The varieties of vegetables available in those catalogues are amazing. Garden space is usually limited, so I try to raise the vegetables that I enjoy eating and are expensive to buy (like heirloom tomatoes). I don’t plant potatoes, large onions, and corn because they take lots of garden space and water, and are cheap to buy in stores.

When buying seeds, ask yourself if you really want to raise plants from seed or do you want to buy plants from the nursery? Growing plant starts like tomatoes can be difficult, and what if you leave on vacation?

Most of the seeds I buy will be “direct seeded” in the garden, like spinach, zucchini, winter squash, beans, beets, parsnips and chard.

Planting most of these will have to wait until late April because they will not germinate until the soil warms.

Winter is the best time to prepare garden soil. Add 3-4 inches of compost to the garden area, then broadcast granular fertilizer on top (a 10-20-10 granular fertilizer, or similar blend, following the application rates on the package), and till in the mixture of soil, compost and fertilizer to a total depth of about 10-12 inches. I use 5-foot-wide raised beds with wood board edges to control the garden area — it helps for tilling, planting, watering and harvesting.

To obtain compost, check the Sandoval County Landfill & Composting Facility at 2708 Iris Road or call the local county extension office for sources of bulk compost.

You can also purchase bags from the local nursery supply stores.

Now that your soil is prepared, wait until mid-March and begin planting sets of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, peas and other cold-weather crops.

Be prepared for hard nighttime freezing — I cover my garden with old sheets or whatever else I can find. But once these cold crops start rooting in, they will stand moderate freezing and bounce right back. Soon, you will be enjoying the wonderful taste of home-grown vegetables.

For more gardening and class information, call the Sandoval County Master Gardener Hotline at 867-2582.

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