Make a Plan
What did well last year? What didn't? Was there anything you saw that you were desperate to try yourself? Do you want to plant more of anything, especially veggies, do you need a bigger crop? Check your seed box, what do you still have? What do you need? Browse some catalogues and see what you fancy growing. (I'm a little bit in love with the Sarah Raven catalogue at the moment!) Grab your notebook and start planning - perfect rainy afternoon activity.
For me, the cucamelons failed miserably, so I think we'll have another go at those; we'll want the usual vegetable and fruit selections; and I rather fancy a new clematis. We did very well with bee-attracting plants last year, so a few packets of wild flower seed would be good, and some other pretty annuals.
Get Your Tools Ready
Caring for your garden tools will preserve them for longer, saving you money, and it helps prevent the spread of disease too. Now is the time to clean and sharpen.
Get all your tools out and give them a full appraisal. Scrub off any rust spots with a green scouring pad and oil the metal. One great tip I heard is to store them in a bucket of sand to prevent any new rust forming while it's still so damp.
Wash your pots and seed trays out to help prevent any diseases that could infect your young plants.
Clean your Greenhouse
Before long your greenhouse will be full of trays of seedlings and cuttings so take the time now to give it a thorough clean. Sweep any plant debris from the shelves, benches and floor, and disinfect with a hot solution of garden disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid. Make sure you clean the glass too, disinfecting to get rid of overwintering pests and disease which can survive in the smallest of nooks and crannies. Ventilate your greenhouse well over the following couple of days so it dries thoroughly.
Tidy Your Lawn
Rake your law over to remove any leaf debris, loose tufts and dead plants. This helps to aerate the soil and encourages new growth. Have a look at the edges and any long patches of grass. It may still be a bit wet to use a lawnmower, but a grass strimmer or trimmer can be your best friend.
Often overlooked, a good sharp edge between lawn and border is like a model perfecting her eyebrows. She may be beautiful without, but that sharp edge makes everything look more polished and finished. A good strimmed edge is the perfect finishing touch that will elevate your garden’s overall look and just make everything look sharper.
Prepare the Soil
Before launching in with your fork, check how wet the soil is to avoid the danger of compacting it. Ideally the soil should be dry enough that it will not ball up in your hand. When it's dry enough, give the soil a good dig over, and remove any weeds. Remember to never compost weeds though!
This is also a good time to test the pH balance of your soil. Finding out whether it is acidic or alkaline will determine what kinds of fertilisers you need, and even whether some plants can grow there. The best time to test is as soon as you see new growth appearing on old plants. You can adjust your soil's pH with the right additions, but it can be hard work! Add a 5cm layer of any compost, manure or other nutrients now so it has time to alter the pH balance and nutrient levels before you plant.
Once the soil has got warmer and dried out a bit is the ideal time to mulch. Mulching slows water evaporation, cools plants' roots, feeds the soil, and makes everything bloom better and grow more healthily. It will cut down on weeds too, double bonus. Think of it as the ultimate health supplement for your garden!
Blitz Your Borders
First of all, remove any annuals that remained over winter. Any seed will be long gone, so pull them up and compost them. Ditto for the dead stalks of any perennials you may have left to help wildlife over the winter. You can also cut back any ornamental grasses now, cutting them to within a few inches of the ground
Next prune your perennials, once the danger of any hard frost has passed. Prune those plants that will only bud on new growth, such as currant bushes, buddleia and other woody shrubs, and cut back anything you neglected to tackle in the autumn. Cutting the dead stems will give the plant a jolt and bring it out of its dormant stage, ready to show renewed vigour as the weather warms.
This is also the best time to divide and transplant any plants, before the new growth gets going with a vengeance. They can tolerate more trauma and will recover faster now than they would later in the season.
Clean any bird and insect feeders, take down and clean any bird boxes, and consider adding new bird and bat boxes to attract new species to your patch. Get the children involved in making a bug hotel or log pile. Research plants that are bee and butterfly-attractors and add a list of must-buys to your notebook.
This is also the ideal time to install water butts to collect rainfall - there's enough of it around right now! You'll be helping the environment of course, but rain water is also good for watering ericaceous plants such as Camellias, Rhododendrons and Blueberries who don't like slightly alkaline tap water.
If you really can't wait to get going, you can sow seeds that need a longer season, such as Geraniums (Pelargoniums), Begonias, Antirrhinums, Peppers and Aubergines. They’ll need warmth from a heated propagator or similar to ensure good growth, but for any gardener the satisfaction of getting going is the thing. Enjoy!