Thinking Ahead to Spring

Gardeners and future gardeners, your winter hibernation is over.

It’s time to shake off your winter sleep and get ready for the start of planting season.  Despite the cold outside, we’ll be planting in North Alabama in less than a month.  Traditionally, the spring planting season starts on Valentine’s Day here but the weather can delay that start or even allow planting sooner.  English peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes and turnips are able to thrive in our cool spring temperatures and shake off frost.  These seeds will germinate when the soil temperature is as low as 50F, and 50F is the optimal temperature for spinach germination.

There are 4 main tasks that need to get done this month:

flower, henbit, purple

Henbit, a winter and early spring “weed”

  • Check and clean tools.  Hopefully you put your tools away cleaned and sharpened last fall, but if you didn’t you need to take care of them now.  Also clean up any trellis’ and garden supports.  If you use natural supports like bamboo or wood stakes, some of those may need to be replaced.
  • Clean and prep garden space.  Plant debris needs to be cleared away in the fall to reduce pests and disease pressure.
    • If you have dedicated garden beds, remove any winter debris like fallen leaves to the compost pile, and get keep the beds cleared of winter and spring weeds like wild garlic, henbit, speedwell, dead nettle and chickweed before they go to seed.
    • If you till up a garden plot, be ready to turn the soil when the weather cooperates and the soil isn’t wet.  This kills weed seeds and disrupts some garden pests.
    • If you have drip irrigation, test and repair any broken clogged or leaking lines.  Be sure to drain the lines again afterwards: you don’t want water in the lines during a freeze.
  • Plot out your garden.  Whatever the size of your garden space, planning ahead for a transition from spring to summer to fall planting will help you maximize your productivity.
  • Check your seed supply.  Before succumbing to the pretty pictures in the seed catalogs that have been clogging your mailbox, check to see what you have left over from last year that you want to plan again.  Last year’s seed is often perfectly good, but some seeds lose their viability quickly.  This reference chart (PDF file) will help you determine which seeds need to be reordered and which don’t.


Nicole Castle Brookus

Nicole advocates a non-dogmatic approach to sustainability, integrated pest management, permaculture, community involvement and resilient local food systems, and is available for on-site consultations and speaking engagements. She lives in Madison, Alabama and is also a nature photographer. Learn more about Nicole's work towards sustainable food systems at Southern Foodscapes and see her art & photography at