5 Ways to Beat the Winter Doldrums

I've read many articles that purport to help gardeners who are itching to get started with their outdoor gardening at this time of year.

Mostly they dispense advice ranging from, "It's time to plan your flower beds and order seeds" to "It's time to plan your vegetable garden and order seeds." Sage advice, no doubt, and beneficial when followed, but not very satisfying for someone like me who is itching to "do" something physical to get the ball rolling and to flex those winter-atrophied muscles. Here's what I remind myself to do when it's still wet and cold but I've got to get something done to relieve the cabin fever.

1. Plant something! Nurseries are open full time and are plentifully stocked with trees and shrubs and perennial flowers that will love to get in the ground at this time of year. There's nothing like getting your hands (and knees and boots and gloves) dirty to get you excited about the new season. And it's a splendid time to find the areas of your yard that don't drain well. They will be located where you begin to dig a planting hole and it fills with water before you finish digging. Make a note of that, and move to another location.

The best tip I can give you when digging in wet soil is to not pry the soil out of the hole by pulling back on the handle of the shovel. Instead, push the handle forward, then, lift the soil out of the ground in small amounts. Do not "glaze" the side of the planting hole. That's when your shoveling smoothes the soil, so it looks like potter's clay. When a glazed area dries, it will harden like stone and will not let roots or water out. Disastrous!

2. Continue (or begin) the quest for organic matter. It is that material, preferably loaded with manure, that we need in abundance once the gardening season gets into swing. Since we never apply fresh manure to the vegetable garden, start harvesting now for later use. Clear an area accessible by vehicle to store the composting material. Gather tarps, covers, etc., that you will need to keep nutrients from leaching in the rain until ready for use. Contact horse groups, 4-H clubs and the Future Farmers of America kids for possible leads.

3. Get that weeding started! I don't care how boring, loathsome or abhorrent it is. Any weeding done now will be repaid tenfold once April rolls around. Sharpen the hoe and force yourself, if necessary, to weed for 15 minutes each day. You'll be surprised at how much time that will save and will pay off in better, healthier plants right from the start. If the soil is wet, put out boards or strips of plywood to support your weight and prevent soil compaction. You can weed in a downpour like that.

4. Take on a wildlife project. Whether it's building and hanging birdhouses, providing water stations throughout the yard or planting suitable habitat and forage, bettering the conditions for the creatures with which we share our landscapes enriches us as much as it helps them. If you're adventurous, put up bat houses and let them control insects instead of spraying. It works! You'll appreciate our environment more than ever.

5. Learn something new. This is for those days when you absolutely, positively can't get outside. Study mycorrhizae, IPM (integrated pest management), organic lawn care, or any gardening topic you may have heard of, but don't know much about. No time that is spent learning is wasted. Join a garden club, or take a community college class or Master Gardener's symposium to increase your range of knowledge.

These five simple ideas have added to my enjoyment of gardening throughout the years. I hope they help you beat the winter doldrums this year.

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