Ok, it’s been a weird spring; sunny and beautiful one day and the next snow, but here in Champaign/Urbana IL, we’re used to it and Summer is right around the corner, we promise. 

Your plants are no doubt confused; do they wake from winter slumber or wait? If they wake up, they’re usually damaged with a late freeze.   So, wait just a little longer before planting those seedlings.  There is plenty to do in the meantime.  

Check Your Tools

Chances are your tools were packed away hastily in the fall, so take this opportunity and use it for a little maintenance.

  •  Get your gas-powered equipment a tune-up: Sharpen the mower blades, change the spark plugs, replace the fuel, get some new oil, and double check to make sure everything is still working properly. 
  •  Sharpen and oil hand equipment: Sand any rust with a bit of steel wool, use a sharpening stone to sharpen the edge of the blades, and then coat the blades and moving parts with a light penetrating oil. (Local hardware stores usually offer these services as well). 
  •  Repair Digging tools: Did you break the handle on a shovel last year?  If it’s a quality tool, it’s worth replacing the handle, rather than throwing it out and buying a new one. Again, scrub off the rust and dirt and then spray with a penetrating oil to fight rust this season. 
EXTRA:
Soak your rusted tools in a bucket of white vinegar for fifteen minutes.  Remove and wipe dry.  Soak for an additional 15-30 minutes, remove and then brush with your steel wool.  Repeat until all rust is removed.  After rust is removed, dry completely and rub with linseed or mineral oil.  After this dries, put a little penetrating and your tools will be primed and ready for work.  

Prepare The Yard

Winter has a special way of making your yard look like a dirty post apocalyptic movie set, sticks and debris scattered, dead leaves and grass everywhere, maybe some land mines from the neighbors dog.  So before you get to planting, you’ll need to do some clean-up and a bit of TLC.  Spring flowers won’t hide everything.

  •  Rake: Rake all of the dead leaves and add them to your compose pile. Collect all the sticks and kick em to the curb for pick up. 
    Rake up all of your old mulch and add it to the leaves in the compost pile.  Spread a ½-inch layer of finished compost over all the bare soil in your beds to replace lost nutrients.
  •  Time To Primp: Pull out your annuals that died over the winter and, guess what?…yup put them in the compost pile! Any perennials and ornamental grasses that weren’t cut back in fall should now be cut to about 4 inches tall to make way for new growth; saw off all broken branches to the larger branch they’re attached to, make sure to leave a smooth cut rather than a little stub; prune all trees, shrubs, and vines to remove dead wood and if you didn’t get to it over the winter, now is your last chance to prune fruit trees, grape vines and other food plants. 
  •  Finishing Touches: Sculpt your flower beds with an edging tool to obtain clean, crisp lines and keep lawn grass from invading your beds.  Cut early spring blooms to make way for better ones.   

Prepare Your Veggie Beds

When the soil in your vegetable garden is finally dry enough to not squish when you step on it, it’s time to start laying the groundwork.

  •  Clean: Remove any dead leftovers that didn’t survive the winter and toss them into your growing compost pile; if you planted cover crops in the fall, mow them and then let the stems dry out for a couple weeks before tilling the debris; if you mulched your beds in the fall, rake off the mulch and add it to the compost pile.
  •  Add More Compost: Spread a new layer of compost on your beds—1 to 2 inches is best, and till; add extra nutrients like lime (for acidic soils), sulfur (for basic soils), bone meal (for phosphorus), green sand (for potassium), and kelp meal (for micronutrients), then till in the compost and  extras but only once the soil is dry enough to crumble when you grab a handful, then rake the beds into smooth, ready-to-plant mounds.
  •  Sort Your Seeds: Pick out your seeds, sort and then get some started indoors!

Thanks Modern Farmer for the great Gardening information!