Spring is an active time in the garden.  Let’s face it, we all have some pent-up energy from being indoors throughout the winter, while not take advantage of a few of the milder late winter/early spring days to use some of that energy to get the garden started on the right track.

One of the first tasks to accomplish in the spring garden is a thorough inspection.  On a mild late winter – early spring day, take some time to walk the garden to inspect what has happened during the winter months.  Take note of:

  • Cold, ice, or snow damage on plants
  • Garden beds that need to be cleaned out
  • Walls, fences, sheds, trellises that may need repair

Take on the hardscaping issues first:

In early spring, the ground may not be ready to be worked, take this time to repair any damaged retaining walls, fences, trellises, window boxes, walkways, etc.  This is also a good time to clean the gutters, level any stepping stones/pathways that may have shifted during the winter, and test your garden hoses for leaks.

Do a Thorough Spring Clean-up:

The initial spring clean-up ideally should be accomplished prior to the garden coming back to life.  Just before spring bulbs begin to pop up, clean the garden beds of any debris such as fallen branches, matted down leaves, and any foliage left from last year’s perennials/ornamental grasses/annuals/vegetables.  One of the best ways to keep pests and diseases in check is to maintain good hygiene in the garden beds.

This is also a good time to clean out any bird baths and planters before setting them back into the garden.  A mixture of 1-part bleach to 5-parts water should take care of any lingering diseases or insect eggs in your containers.

Feed and Add Compost to Beds:

Some perennial plants such as roses, clematis, and berry plants benefit from an early topdressing of compost.  Once the ground has thawed, apply a 2” layer around the base of the plants; being careful not to bury any new sprouts.

This is also a good time to sprinkle a slow-release fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone or Rose-tone around your perennials and shrubs.

Add compost or manure to vegetable garden beds to replenish nutrients.  Turn over the beds to incorporate the fresh compost into the existing soil.

Spring Pruning:

Sharpen the blades of hand pruners, loppers, and lawn mower blades so they are ready for use as soon as Mother Nature permits.  If you didn’t accomplish this task over the winter, get it done before the pruning season starts.  Prune out anything that has been broken or damaged by winter ice, snow, or cold.

A general rule for spring pruning is:

  • Flowering shrubs that bloom on new wood (this year’s growth) can be trimmed in the spring. This includes shrubs like butterfly bush, spiraea, roses, and paniculata hydrangeas.  Their flower buds will be set on the new flush growth that appears after pruning.
  • Do Not Prune flowering shrubs that bloom on old wood (last year’s growth) in early spring. You may not be able to see them yet, but the buds for this year’s flowers are there.  These shrubs should be trimmed just after their spring flowering has finished.  This includes shrubs such as azalea, deutzia, forsythia, lilac, viburnum, rhododendrons, bigleaf hydrangeas, weigela, etc.  When in doubt, don’t prune.
  • Evergreens such as boxwood and arborvitae can be trimmed once their initial flush of new growth has finished emerging in late spring/early summer.
  • Prune ornamental grasses before any new shoots begin to emerge. Small varieties can be easily pruned with a pair of hand pruners.  For larger ones, tie up the clump with string, then cut through the clump with a pair of pruners or an electric hedge clipper.  Add the debris to your compost pile or yard waste recycling.

Don’t Forget the Birds:

Once temperatures are consistently above freezing, clean birdbaths and fill them with water.  Migrating birds that are returning from their winter habitats will be grateful for the water source as well as the bird food you supply.

Sow your Cool Weather Vegetables:

If the garden beds are not ready for planting, you can sow cool weather vegetable crops such as lettuce in pots for an early harvest.  Once the danger of a hard frost subsides, cool weather vegetable crops can be sowed directly into the ground.

Add Mulch to Garden Beds:

As soon as the soil has warmed up, refresh mulch in planting beds.  Don’t add it too soon as you will risk slowing down the process of soil warming.  Add a 1-2” layer of mulch to planting beds, being careful to keep mulch 2-3” away from the crown of the plants (where the stems of the plant emerge from the soil).

Plant Spring Borders and Containers:

Even though most annuals need the soil temperatures to warm up a bit before planting, there are some cool weather loving choices like pansies and violas that won’t mind the cool soil.  These cool loving annuals bring the first life to the garden with a burst of spring color.