‘Volunteer Gardener’ tips for a head start on spring

Volunteer Gardener NPT
By Laura Bigbee-Fott

This is the first of a series of guest-written gardening blogs to inspire fans of NPT’s Volunteer Gardener and anyone looking for tips and ideas for happier, healthier gardens.

January is named for the Roman god Janus, whose purview was beginnings, endings and the transitions between the two. That’s especially apt here in Zone 7a where last year’s growing season has come to an end and most perennials are completely dormant. However, during this transition from dark to light, there are lots of chores we can accomplish to get a head start on our gardens!

You’re probably already poring over the mountains of seed catalogs you received over the winter holidays, but why not take advantage of these milder January days to get outside and get some real work done?

Here is quick list to get you started:

  • Use fireplace ashes. Take the ashes from your fireplace and spread them on your compost pile. You can also scatter the ashes around alkaline-loving plants such as clematis, forsythia, barberry, crocus, lilacs and buddiea. Just be sure to avoid your blueberry bushes!
  • Plant dormant trees and shrubs. Do this on days when your soil has dried out a bit. Working cold, wet soil – especially here in Middle Tennessee where we have a lot of clay – can cause compaction and that will inhibit root growth.
  • Start indoors. Start slower-growing plants indoors. Coleus are easy to grow from seed, and if you start now, they will be a lovely size to plant out in May.
  • Garden cleaning. Tools, pots, bird houses and bird feeders can all be cleaned now. Be sure to use a mild vinegar or bleach solution. Don’t forget to oil and sharpen your tools in preparation for spring. Oh, and fill all those bird feeders!
  • Winter weeding. Dig out winter weeds before they get a foothold in your garden! Look out for violets, as well as wild onion and strawberries. It’s been so mild this winter that even henbit and chickweed are making an appearance; get a head start and pluck them out now.
  • Garden mapping. On these long, dark evenings, draw out maps of your beds and landscape plantings. Make notes of additions you’d like to make, as well as items that need to be divided and/or moved to another location later in the season.
  • Crop cover. Winter rye can be used as a winter cover crop for areas you were late to clear.

If you take some time during this month of transition to get a head start in the garden, you will be able to greet spring with calm and pleasure. Get more ideas on Volunteer Gardener Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on NPT.


Laura Bigbee-Fott is a Davidson County Master Gardener. She owns Whites Creek Flower Farm and runs a floral event and wedding design business called Everything Blooms.

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