Plan well in February for better spring gardening

Here in the middle of February, it still is planning season. Fortunately, there are several planning tasks that will go a long way toward better gardens once planting season arrives.

First, as you continue to browse catalogs, magazines and websites, note carefully the specific requirements of any plant that really tempts you. No matter how appealing a plant may be, the conditions in which it can thrive must match the conditions that you can offer.

Shocking as it may sound, there are plants that really don?t care for high humidity; they might be happier in a near-desert. More specifically, you know whether your ?this-space-available? spot offers six hours of direct sun daily or a little bit of filtered morning sunlight! This is no time for wishful thinking. You can admire any plant as much as you like, but purchase only those that have an appropriate ?home space? ready to accommodate them.

Next, if you grow vegetables, take time to review your garden layout from last season. It is very important to rotate crops through the different sections of garden space, not growing similar crops in a space in consecutive years. In fact, try to avoid similar crops in any one garden sector within a three-year period. This practice allows fungus spores and other disease carriers to die off before they can target another vulnerable plant.

One crop family is the cabbages, or brassicas. This is a large family, with not just all cabbages but also broccoli, brussels sprouts, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, kale, and more.

Another important classification is the nightshade group, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and peppers.

Cucumbers and all varieties of squash constitute a family (cucurbits) as do peas and beans (legumes).

Alliums include onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and leeks.

So ... plant tomatoes where broccoli flourished last year and onions where last year?s tomatoes thrived.

Finally, give some thought to amending your soil, a practice recommended yearly. Adding organic matter to your garden soil helps to create spaces for the movement of air and water, adds nutrients, improves drainage and creates habitat and food for microscopic life-forms.

Compost is a great soil amendment and homemade compost is cheaper and better than bagged stuff. If you don?t already make compost, resolve to start that process this spring. You can designate a spot in your garden where compost can pile up or invest in a fancy container with a handle to turn a tumbler ? or anything in between.

You?ll want to incorporate plenty of brown material such as shredded leaves and stalks along with green material from kitchen wastes (and yes, this green includes carrot peelings, apple cores, and black tea bags ? just no meat products). Add a shovel of garden soil to get the process of decomposition started, and plan to turn the compost occasionally if you?re not using a tumbler. Building up your garden soil is an essential step on the path to a great garden!