As the snow melts all across the country, many gardeners are writing their to-do lists in eager anticipation of the upcoming growing season. However, before you begin to put seeds and starts in the ground, there are several things to do first.

Assess Your Compost

compost pile

Healthy compost is essential for enriching the soil and growing strong plants. After the winter months, your compost may need some extra care and attention to get started again. Although you may already have some compost that is ready for the garden, you’ll want to assess its health to make sure it will provide a hospitable environment for aerobic decomposer organisms. Make sure to focus on temperature, odor, structure, and moisture. If any one of these areas is off, you may need to add either more green or brown waste to your compost pile. A pile can also become too moist, in which case you may notice standing water in your organic fertilizer. It is possible that the problem will resolve itself, as sometimes the water will just drain or evaporate, but this may take some time. If your compost really stinks, it may be because it doesn't have enough carbon or oxygen in it, it's too moist, or the pile is too dense. All of these issues are fixable, and the best time to attend to them is as soon as you notice them.

Don’t forget to assess the bin that holds your compost and make any repairs you see necessary.

Apply Mulch

Mulch is vital in any garden, whether you’re growing flowers or vegetables. It keeps the soil moist, suppresses weeds, and makes outdoor areas look more polished in general. There are a variety of mulches out there, including wood chips, straw, and rocks. If you plan to use wood chips, you can always call call your local tree service company and ask what they do with theirs. Many companies dispose of them and are able to give them to you free of cost. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have enough mulch for all of your beds and pathways.

Make Repairs

repainting a garden fence

Winter can be hard on your garden and the materials you use to maintain it. Harsh cold weather can be particularly damaging to fences and gates. Look them over carefully and note any spots that need repair, slats that need replacement, and hardware that needs attention. If your fences and gates are in great condition, consider sprucing them up by giving them a fresh coat of paint for the new season. After all, it’s easier to paint now than it will be when your garden is filled with growing plants.

Next, look over your trellises and other plant supports to make repairs if needed. If something is beyond repair, you may want to consider replacing it altogether. Create a list of anything you need to fix or replace. This ensures that you’ll remember everything you need to buy the next time you’re at the hardware store or nursery.

This is also a good time to assess your garden tools, whether you’re fixing a handle, oiling to prevent rust, or sharpening a blade. The better condition your tools are in, the longer they will last.

Harden Off Transplants

If you got a jump on the growing season by planting seeds in trays or biodegradable pots, now is the time to get the starts ready for life outdoors. If you’ve seen the last of the frost in your area, begin bringing the plants outside for a few hours at a time during the sunniest part of the day. Over the next few weeks, you’ll want to leave them outdoors for longer periods, until they can handle being there all the time. Gradually preparing the starts for the new weather will help them thrive when they’re planted in the ground, as they will already be so used to the conditions.

Create a Budget

it's important to create a garden budget

As a gardener, it's easy to get carried away with purchasing plants, seeds, garden tools, and more without much consideration to the cost. It’s best to consciously keep in mind that it all adds up quickly. To save money, make a list of items you’ll need to buy for the whole year, including new tools, plant markers, starts, etc. Next, estimate how much it will cost in full. Once you’ve added it all up, you have found your target budget. Try to stick to your list when purchasing items online or at your local plant nursery, especially if you have the tendency to pick up items on a whim.

If you plan to sell items from your homestead, you’ll also want to track your expenses. You can do so easily by creating a spreadsheet with columns for expected and actual costs. Since the goal is to make money, you’ll want to ensure you keep costs down. Additionally, you can include a column for your income. If you sell a variety of goods from your homestead, such as eggs, vegetables, and wool, you may want to list your income and expenses separately as individual line items. This will help you assess your homestead’s productivity and figure out ways to maximize your profits.

Taking care of these tasks before the busy growing season begins will ensure you save time and money when it actually arrives. Remember: the more you prepare now, the less work you'll have to put in to maintain a happy and healthy garden.