By Mary Heyl

Believe it or not, winter is over and it’s time to think about sprucing up the yard for spring! Whether you plan to do some light pruning, start a vegetable garden, or plant flower beds, thoughtful planning goes a long way. While it’s true that Mother Nature has her own plans, there’s a lot that you can do now to ensure success.

Even if there’s still snow on the ground, you can get ready by prepping your tools. Gather your pruning shears, shovels, and other tools and make sure they’re clean—be sure to check for rust! Have your pruning shears sharpened and check your lawn mower blade and the mower itself. Now is the time for any necessary sharpening or tune-ups.

If you haven’t already, start a compost pile so that you have the perfect fertilizer for your garden. Every day, place any fruit/vegetable scraps in a bucket or large bowl. Other compostable food waste includes egg shells, coffee grounds, loose leaf tea or tea bags made with natural materials. Find an out-of-the-way spot in your yard and clear away any snow so that you can see grass and dirt. Start with a layer of leaves and/or twigs. Every day or every few days, take your bucket to the compost pile. “Turn” your compost pile with a hoe or rake to aerate it. Add the contents of the bucket and cover with a tarp.

When it’s time for spring planting, clear and weed the planting area. Once your compost pile is dark brown and crumbly, add a 4-inch layer of compost to new beds and work it well into the soil to maximize the nutrients your seedlings will need to grow. Composting is free, eco-friendly, and best of all, effective! Compost adds key nutrients to the soil such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as micronutrients like copper, iron and zinc.

Did you know that winter is actually the best time to prune your trees and shrubs? Warm weather and new growth can increase the risk of disease. You can literally nip this in the bud by pruning fruit trees before the buds begin to bloom. Waiting too long can stress the tree and result in a smaller harvest. Now is also a good time to divide perennials before the plants have begun their spring growth and become a lot more difficult to move.

Have you ever wondered why certain plants just never seem to do well in your yard, even though they’re receiving the proper amount of sunlight and water? Consider the pH level of your soil—this may have a bigger effect than you think! Soil test kits are available at garden centers and home improvement stores. Now is the time to pick one up and test the aacidity of the soil in your yard before you buy your plants or seeds. Some plants, such as azalea, heather and hydrangea prefer acidic soil, while others are productive in more basic soil. Save yourself some time and money by testing your soil before you start planting!

There is more to a healthy garden than plants! Make your yard a homey place for the birds by putting in a new birdbath and filling your bird feeders regularly. Did you know that a single chickadee can consume up to 1,000 plant-eating insects in a day? Attracting birds to your yard is an easy way to keep the pests off your plants! In addition to a birdbath and feeders, plant some seed and fruit-bearing plants like sunflower, Echinacea, honeysuckle and aster. The birds will thank you, and you will thank them!