Lay out cardboard until the entire area for the new bed is covered. Having a couple inches of cardboard protruding underneath the frame is ideal. You can leave this to help keep grasses from growing under the frame or it can easily be cut off flush to the frame with a common utility knife. Photo by Greg Traver via Flickr.com; some rights reserved

Planning and prep work can fill the gardening lull of winter

Lay out cardboard until the entire area for the new bed is covered. Having a couple inches of cardboard protruding underneath the frame is ideal. You can leave this to help keep grasses from growing under the frame or it can easily be cut off flush to the frame with a common utility knife. Photo by Greg Traver via Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

Following the craziness of the holidays, we can now resume our lives with a sense of calm. For gardeners this may seem to be a fine time to sit by the fire, peruse seed catalogs and dream of the coming season. Don’t be lulled into idleness, however, as the days are now getting longer and spring will be upon us soon. There are many days during the winter that are quite beautiful and favorable for us to get out into the garden. In fact, our average high temperature for January in Bartlett is 50 degrees.

On the gloomier days there are lots of opportunities locally to learn more about our hobby of gardening. First and foremost is Bartlett Gardening University, which will be at the Bartlett Public Library beginning on Jan. 12. It will consist of six weekly sessions, and each class will cover a different gardening topic. All classes will begin at 2:30 p.m.

Before you head to the library on Jan. 12, consider attending an herbal work study the same day at the Memphis Botanic Garden. This will be an indoors hands-on event from 8:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. As the class cleans the seeds, you will learn about seed saving and packaging along with a goodly smattering of general herb information. Hot coffee and herbal libations will be provided. Everyone will get to go home with a handout that includes tips and recipes. Meet at the Horticulture Building in the south end of the parking lot.

On Jan. 26 the Lichterman Nature Center is hosting “The Birds & Seeds: Winter Workshops and Seed Swap.” Visitors will be able to swap seeds with each other and learn from bird-watching and gardening experts.

Activities for this free event will include a seed swap, seed giveaways, seminars, bird watching, a beginner bird-watching seminar, owl pellet dissection, seed starting activity stations, cooking demos, children’s activities, tool sharpening and and question-and-action opportunities with gardening experts. (Note: There are fees for tool sharpening, plant purchases and owl pellet dissection.)

Urban Earth Nursery at 80 Flicker St. in Memphis is also hosting two gardening Saturday seminars in January with class beginning at 1 p.m.:

  • January 19, “Help Me, I am Not a Garden Expert!: This fun class covers gardening tricks and timesavers for people who are not yet of expert status.
  • January 26, “Wildlife Conservation”: Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation will bring some animals and talk about wildlife rehabilitation. Learn what to do when you find a helpless baby animal.

Things to do in the garden in January

  • Plant: Order seeds. Start seeds for cool weather vegetables. Plant and move trees and shrubs.
  • Lawn care: Apply lime if soil test indicates it is needed. Spot spray winter weeds. Continue to keep the leaves off your lawn, especially on fescue lawns.
  • Fertilize: Trees and winter annuals.
  • Prune: Broadleaf evergreen shrubs. Deadhead winter annuals.
  • Other: Recycle real Christmas trees. Obtain a soil test. Spray dormant oil on broadleaf evergreens and roses. Repair and sharpen mowers and tools. Keep bird feeders stocked. Provide water for birds. After a freeze, check to make sure plants have not heaved out of the ground.

Curbside recycling of Christmas trees is a great amenity here in Bartlett. Your tree will be collected and turned into mulch. Better yet, you can cut out the middle man and take your tree to The Yard, located at 1735 Thomas Road, Memphis. For each Christmas tree brought to The Yard, they will make a $5 donation to the Memphis Botanic Garden. Make sure you remove all ornaments, lights and tinsel before recycling.

Another use for your tree is to place it in the garden or outside a window and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. Eventually the branches will become brittle and you can put it on the curb for recycling after having enjoyed if for several more months.

‘Lasagna gardening’

It is not too late to prepare some veggies or flower beds for the upcoming year. Lasagna gardening is an excellent method to create beds as it does not require any digging and thus preserves the soil structure. Here are the general steps to creating your beds using this method.

  1. Select the location for your new bed, keeping in mind the light requirements for the plants you will be growing. While your finished bed will be raised to provide improved drainage, you still want to avoid areas that remain wet.
  2. Outline the area you want for your bed. If you are creating sides for the bed, construct them now. If you are using concrete blocks for the sides of your bed, make sure the blocks are sitting on a thick layer of newspaper to keep weeds from sprouting.
  3. For the first layer, use a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard. This will provide a solid base and keep weeds down, and it will smother any existing weeds or grass. Wet this layer to hold the material in place.
  4. Soil conditioner can be added as the first or second layer to help with drainage.
  5. For the next several layers, alternate layers of greens and browns, watering in each layer. “Browns” consist of shredded leaves, pine needles, twigs, chipped tree branches/bark, straw or hay, sawdust, paper (such as newspaper, writing/printing paper, paper plates and napkins, coffee filters, etc.) and “greens” (grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps, trimmings from perennial and annual plants, annual weeds that haven’t set seed, eggshells, well-aged manures from animals such as cows, horses, sheep, chickens, rabbits, etc. (No dog or cat manure.) Keep going in this manner until your garden is at least two feet deep. You can go much deeper if you wish. Remember, after a while, some of the elements of your garden will break down and it won’t be as tall as it was to begin with.

Essentially you are building a large shallow compost pile that will be excellent for growing, come spring.

TOM RIEMAN of Bartlett is a Shelby County Extension Master Gardener and secretary of the Bartlett City Beautiful Commission. Keep Bartlett Beautiful is among the activities of this commission. Contact him at thrieman@aol.com.

Using hay bales for the perimeter of a soil-enrichment project is another approach for Mid-South gardeners to consider. See details about this particular project online at bit.ly/Straw-Bale-Compost. Photo by Talena Winters at talenawinters.com; all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.