Master Gardeners of Napa County: Winter steps for spring gardens | Master Gardener

Erin Browne

As the new year gets underway, we start dreaming of what our gardens will be like in the spring and summer. The urge to garden should be rising within you. Even if it is cold and wet there are things you can start planning and doing.

The first task is to read all those seed catalogs you have received. I wish I had the time, energy, and space to plant and care for most of the plants listed (except beets). Now is the time to go through these catalogs and compare seeds, yields, dates to maturity and other information on what you plan to grow this year.

I like to read all the tomato descriptions, but I wait to buy from the Master Gardener Tomato Sale in April. I think I most enjoy eating tomatoes right off the vine, when they are warm and tasty. I call this grazing in the garden.

If you see other seeds you want to try, compare sources and decide which company to buy from. It is a little too early to start the seeds, but you can get your pots and soil ready for the growing season. Don’t forget to include some nectar-producing plants to feed the bees, butterflies, and moths, and perhaps a bat or two. Many of these can be planted right alongside your vegetables.

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The weeds have really taken advantage of our warm, rainy winter. Mine is growing into a forest. An old-fashioned hoe works well for weeding and also gives you a workout. And it’s not too late to try sheet composting ( to cut down on weeds. The Napa County Master Gardeners produced a video ( on sheet composting. If the cardboard has not decomposed by the time you are ready to plant, just cut planting holes in it.

Any dormant fruit and landscape trees should be pruned now before they get flowers and leaves. Consult a book on pruning or online resources if you’re not sure what to do. Be sure your pruning tools are clean and sharp, a good indoor chore to tackle when it’s raining.

Now is the time to plant bare-root fruit trees or other new plants you want in your landscape. Monitor new plantings to make sure they stay damp if it doesn’t rain. The new roots need moisture to grow so the plants get established.

Check mulched areas to see if you need to add more. Keep mulch away from tree trunks to avoid rot.

Visit local nurseries to see what they have in stock and get ideas. They are getting new plants regularly now. If you see something you want, buy it before the supply runs out.

Check your compost bins to make sure they are damp; use a pitchfork to turn and aerate the materials. If you have worm bins, check them, too, and add more worms if necessary to keep the decomposition going. If you don’t have enough material in your compost bin or worm bin, add shredded newspaper, cardboard, and food scraps to keep the decomposers happy. If rain is forecast and the bed has gotten too dry, I take the cover off. When the material is as damp as a wrung-out sponge, I replace the cover.

Consider removing your thirsty lawn and replacing it with drought-tolerant plants in a design of your choosing. It takes some research, but in the end, you will not be watering, mowing, and battling the ground rodents. And you will be so proud of what you have done. Lawns require a huge amount of water and chemicals to keep them looking good.

The City of Napa still has a Cash for Grass offer ( Consider taking advantage of that program.

Last but not least, sign up for a Master Gardener workshop to learn more about gardening. You’ll find a calendar of these at


Napa County Master Gardeners will host a workshop on “Pruning and Plant ID” on Saturday, Jan. 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at Las Flores Community Center, 4300 Linda Vista Ave., Napa. Bring gloves and wear gardening attire for this hands-on workshop. To register:

Library Talk

Napa County Master Gardeners will give a talk on “Creative Cucurbits: Loofahs and More” on Thursday, Feb. 3, from 7 to 8 p.m. Save room in the garden for some crazy cucurbits and learn how to prepare them for your own use or as gifts. Register to receive the Zoom link at

Gardens at the former Copia campus in Napa are about to become part of a new project called Oxbow Yard. It will include a beer garden, micro-distillery and more. Take a look at the start of the project.

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