The sun is out and the snow has melted. You’re ready to kick your garden back into shape after the long winter months. Truth be told, it needs a bit of TLC before you can begin to plant. Dust off your gardening gloves, and get to work. Here are some quick tips for whipping your spring garden into shape.
1. Survey the Yard
Take a good inventory of your yard’s current condition. How are things looking? Are things missing? Order any tools or equipment you might need, and make note of tree limbs that should be removed. Cut down any unsightly or dying foliage, and compost it. Mend any broken fences, pathways, or outbuildings.
2. Remove Any Debris
Now is the time to clean out your garden, especially your raised beds and other areas that tend to collect debris. Remove any piles of leftover snow, as well as any dead leaves. Weed to the best of your ability, and be sure to pick up any old sticks or branches that blew into your yard over the winter months.
3. Perform Any Necessary Maintenance on Your Tools
Even though gardening can be just a hobby, it can still lead to injury or illness if you're not careful. By keeping your tools in top shape and wearing appropriate attire you’ll be staying safe in your garden and preparing for a great season. Make sure your garden tools are sharpened, and you have checked the spark plugs, air filter, and oil on your lawn mower. Although you can start this task earlier in the winter if you have some spare time, make sure you tune up any of your equipment before the weather clears.
4. Feed the Soil
Now is the time to add any nutrients to your soil. Compost or fresh manure are great additions, as long as you provide plenty of time for them to cook down into the soil (this is especially the case if you are adding manure that hasn’t had time to break down yet). You can add other fertilizers to see what nutrients are lacking.
If you’re unsure of your soil’s fertility and composition, don't be afraid to take a quick sample and run it through a home soil-test kit, or drop it off at the local cooperative extension. You might also consider aerating the soil if it especially compacted, although this task is best performed in the fall.
If you haven't already, now is also an excellent time to start a compost pile. Buy a bin or start one right on the ground, but keep it far enough away from your house that you won’t notice it if it starts to smell. Add plant debris as you remove it from the garden, as well as any dead leaves. You can add kitchen scraps as well. This will provide rich, nutritious homemade fertilizer within just a few short months.
5. Trim Perennials
Any plants that made it through the rough winter months should be fertilized and pruned. Wait until the threat of another frost has passed, and then prune right after flowering plants have bloomed. Prune summer-blooming plants in the early spring, as soon as you are able.
6. Plant New Flowers
Once you have cleared your beds and garden of any remaining debris or weeds, start planting your new additions. While planting perennials is a good way to cut down on our workload in future years, consider adding a few annuals to add some pops of color now.
Re-mulch any flower beds or garden areas that need to be mulched. Mulch helps cut down on weeds and to conserve moisture. It also helps to moderate the temperature of the soil, meaning that you can warm the soil prematurely so you can get your seeds into the ground more quickly. If you aren’t concerned about appearances, consider laying down a sheet of black plastic to help accelerate the thaw.
8. Transplant Seeds
If you started seeds inside, now is the time to begin hardening them off and preparing them for their upcoming transplant into the garden. If you didn’t start seeds inside, now might be the time to consider doing so (especially if you live in an area with a late spring, and you still have feet of snow on the ground). When you are ready to start transplanting, make sure you harden them off first. Put them outside during the day, and bring them back in at night. This will help acclimate them to the slightly cooler outside air and help to prevent transplant shock and death.
9. Prepare for Mowing
You don’t need to start mowing your lawn as soon as the snow has melted. However, in addition to making sure all of your equipment is in good working order, you should also clear the lawn of debris and fill the mower with both oil and gas.
10. Don’t Forget to Stay on Top of Your Regular Tasks
Although it can be easy to become caught up in the flurry of new springtime gardening tasks, don’t forget that any existing plants you have still need to be cared for. Deadhead any plants that have already begun to flower (or those that still have remnants left over from last fall) and be sure you are providing your plants with ample water. Prune flowering shrubs and make sure you are monitoring your lawn for growth so that you are ready to mow it once it has reached a few inches in height.
And remember—summer will be here before we know it!