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Mild winter provides chance to get jump on garden chores

Dare I say it that maybe the weather folks were right when they said we’d have a mild winter. We still have a couple of months to prove them wrong, but in the meantime we have a chance to get ahead of spring gardening chores. So bundle up and get out there.

Probably the first thing to do is empty the tool shed or garage and sort through your tools. Sort them into groups; one for sharpening, another for fixing and probably one for donation. With everything out of your storage space, take the time to build a good series of hanging racks and pegs. It is much easier to keep things picked up when you are busy if it’s easy to quickly hang them up. For those odd tools that defy hanging, store them in an old garbage can.

Take your lawnmowers and other power tools into the shop now while things are slow for a tune-up and sharpening. The shop will love you and you won’t have to stand in line with everybody else in the spring. Add fuel stabilizer to gas still in equipment tanks.

To sharpen shovels, edgers and other cutting tools, clamp them to a bench and then run over them with a mill file going from the edge of the blade downward. Pruners large and small can be sharpened with a whetstone or taken to a good knife sharpener.

If you didn’t get the leaves and needles raked up last fall do it now and pile the rakings on areas you know you get early weeds. Annual bluegrass, little bittercress or shotweed and chickweed will be out in January if the weather conditions are right. Lawn mowers run just as well in the winter as they do in the summer to shred the debris.

It is a little early to do heavy pruning, but it’s not too early to plan what needs to be done or begin talking to your tree service people. Be sure your tree service has ISA-certified staff to do your pruning. When it comes to pruning work, the cheapest quote is not always the best guide to a good job.

If you are going to do it yourself, check out pruning techniques on the Web and read up on what is the best way to prune your varieties of shrubs and trees. Remember that lilacs and hydrangeas should not be pruned in the winter but right after they bloom.

Another benefit to gardening through the winter is that you are getting free exercise while you are working. Most of us ate our way through the holidays and need any opportunity to burn some of it off. The Web is full of sites that can help you plan an exercise program that will give you many of the same benefits you get from the exercise programs at the gym – for free. And that will help with your other New Year’s resolution to rein in spending.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at

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