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February may be one of the toughest gardening months of the year – 70 degree weather one day, 30 and snow the next – so what is the home gardener to do during this roller coaster of a month? While you may have a constant eye to the sky, February is actually the perfect month for gardeners across the country to research, plan and begin to lay the ground work for the spring and summer seasons.

Here are a few ideas and tips to start the season off on the right foot and ahead of schedule.

1. Water – winter is actually a very dry season and many of us have seen little to no snow, which is troubling now and could be cause for major concern in the next few months. With little precipitation to speak of in the Midwest, rivers are drying up and farmland is not being replenished with much needed moisture for the growing season. You may not have 2,000 acres to water, and while your neighbors may look at you a bit funny the first few times, break out the hose and sprinkler when the temperature rises and give a good soaking to your trees, lawn and shrubs and you will be richly rewarded come spring.

2. Weed – weeding is best done early in the season so why not start now. We have all been there – I promise I will weed this weekend – and another week goes by…and another. A simple job becomes compounded and what should have taken a few minutes now takes an entire afternoon. Weeds seed just like other plants so pull one weed now before it becomes 20 in a few months.

3. Clean – the leaves have long fallen, there is no grass to cut, so now is the ideal time to clear any debris and get your beds prepped for the planting season so you can start with a clean slate.

4. Mulch – if you used rubber mulch you could cross this one off your to-do list, but there are still a few of you out there who have not made the switch so why not give it a try this year. So why much so early in the year? Mulch will help regulate soil temperature during the highs and lows of spring. If you have accomplished #2 and #3 you have a clean and blank canvas to mulch with no obstructions to deal with. If you use rubber mulch your yard will be treated to a burst of color that cuts through the grey skies and shades of brown in your yard.

5. Plan and prepare – broken shovel handle – fix it, dull pruning shears – sharpen them, bags of seed, fertilizer and soils – organize them. Nothing is worse than starting a job only to find out you don’t have the proper tool or that the one you have does not work the way it should. Now that you have a clean and blank looking yard, this is the time to dream, plan and purchase. Grab some paper and draw out how you want your yard to look this year – don’t like it? Just erase it – choices made now are much easier to fix than when you are standing at the nursery trying to decide on what to plant or after the hole is already dug. Now is also the perfect time to get out those gardening catalogs and start placing your orders as many popular varieties begin to sell out in March.

It is never too early to start planning for the upcoming season –a time where one can truly enjoy the fruits of their labor. Here’s to an early spring!