Spring Gardening Q&A

basil, seedling

When can I plant?

You can plant early spring crops, like spinach, radishes and English peas, in the garden as soon as the soil temperature in your garden is consistently above 50F at a depth of a few inches.  Most years, we reach that temperature in mid February.  Check our North Alabama Planting Calendar for more suggested times to start crops.

Do I need to start all my seeds indoors?

No, our early spring plants will do better if seeded directly in the ground outside.  It IS time to start warm season seeds for tomatoes, peppers and basil indoors.

What’s the best way to control weeds?

There’s no such thing as a weed free garden in North Alabama.  Between the gifts of birds and rodents and the plants that effectively spread their own seeds, you are going to have weeds in your garden.  Things that help:

  • Mulch well to inhibit seed germination.  This can inhibit your garden seeds from sprouting, too, so don’t mulch until your plants are well up.
  • Set up physical barriers around your garden to slow creeping weeds like bermuda grass and creeping charlie.  Stone borders and metal garden edging driven into the ground works reasonably well.  You’ll need to monitor the borders and tackle any plants that make it over or under.
  • Weed early and often: 5 minutes of weeding in your garden every day is worth more than a whole day weeding once a month.  Young weeds are easy to remove and are less likely to return from bits of root left in the soil.  They also won’t have a chance to reseed themselves.
  • DO NOT till up ground with living bermuda grass: bermuda grass can reproduce by fragmentation, so the grass will come back rapidly.  Prep the garden ahead of time by using a weed and/or grass killer safely and according to the package directions.  You may need to do this several times.  Solarization is not very effective on bermuda grass since their roots go so deep.
  • DO NOT use landscape fabric in the garden.  It rapidly clogs and blocks rain from seeping into your garden soil which causes runoff and erosion.  Before long, it also becomes a nursery for weeds with tough roots, and it has to be pulled up — which is a lot harder than putting it down.

How do I keep my neighbor’s cats out of the garden?

This is a very difficult thing to achieve.  Cats love loose soil.  The idea solution is to talk to your neighbor and ask them to keep the cat indoors, but when that doesn’t work, the best non-harmful solution I’ve discovered is to scatter lots of spiky sweet gum balls or pine cones on the top of your garden.  Cats don’t like walking on these.  Any kind of rough chunky mulch is also less attractive than loose soil.

Where can I get mulch and compost?

You can get bagged mulch at big box stores and purchase it by the cubic yard at most local nurseries.  Composted leaf mulch is available for free at the leaf mulch pile next to the Botanical Garden. Many tree services and arborists will also deliver loads of freshly chipped trees (“arborist chips”) to your yard for no charge.  Of the above, I much prefer the arborist chips, but you do have to put them down after your seedlings are well established.