Spring is an exciting season in the garden.
The soil thaws and those first crocuses push to the surface. Spring gardening is one of those things that get you excited after a long, dreary winter.
Spring gardening is about cleaning out the waste from the garden. It involves fixing broken things in your garden and getting your soil ready.
It’s about preparing your seeds and plants for the growing season. And it’s about maintaining the plants once you have started growing them.
Clean Out the Garden
Dead leaves, fallen branches and last year’s blooms conspire to make your garden look dilapidated and neglected. Fortunately, you can turn things around to give your plots a head start.
Cleaning out the garden also exposes the soil so that plant roots can get proper heat and hydration.
Dead, damaged and otherwise diseased branches are bad news for your shrubs. Remove them with some sharp pruners right after new growth begins.
Pruning is essential to all shrubs because it gives them denser foliage, more flowers and makes it an overall healthier plant.
I used to be terrified to prune, but I’ve learned that if you make small cuts, you can’t do much harm.
Be sure to get rid of any branches that are rubbing or seem weak. This leaves more space for sunlight to filter into the plant.
Prune Fruit Trees
Young fruit trees typically are more in need of pruning than more established trees. This is mainly because older fruit trees have already been trained.
Pruning opens up canopies so that the tree receives adequate sunlight, producing thicker stems and more flowers. Another advantage includes reducing the likelihood of bacterial or fungal diseases.
Remove side shoots, and trim new trees to a height of about 24 to 30 inches for best results.
As with pruning shrubs, I found a way of conquering my fear of pruning fruit trees. It really is the best option to keep them healthy.
Remove Weeds, Branches, Leaves and Other Debris
Winter debris likely is covering the surface of your growing area. Removing it is essential to preparing the plots. This may not be a small task, especially if you live with several large trees.
Nonetheless, it’s an important step if you want to ensure that you’re ready to plant when the moment is right.
Garden debris can hide all sorts of nasty surprises like pests, mold and last year’s forgotten annuals. Whether you remove it with a rake or your hands, your garden will look far readier for the growing season than it does now.
Create a Composting Area
Compost is a magical ingredient in gardens, and you don’t have to buy it. You can make your own by establishing a composting area.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified numerous benefits of composting at home like reducing your reliance on chemical fertilizers and lowering your carbon footprint, so this is a highly recommended practice.
You’ll need to buy a composting bin or you can make one yourself. Bins of three feet in diameter are common, and they ideally are about waist-high.
Add all sorts of organic material to your bin like eggshells, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, cut flowers, tea bags, hair, wood shavings, and matches.
You’re aiming for a combination of green items like vegetable peels and brown items like wood shavings to get an optimum balance of carbon and nitrogen, both essential to creating healthier soil.
Occasionally use the hose to wet down your compost pile so that it continues to deteriorate in the most beneficial manner possible.
Install Water Butts to Collect Rainwater
A rainwater collection system is a smart investment for any gardener.
When drought strikes in the summer, I never have to worry about keeping my produce and blooms adequately hydrated. That’s because I’ve been collecting rainwater since the spring.
This is the perfect season to install water butts. Sometimes called a tank or a barrel, these devices are found in home improvement stores everywhere, or you may be able to build your own if you’re especially handy.
Basically, a water butt is installed on a pre-existing downspout on your home. The rainwater that was once being dispersed onto your landscape is now being collected.
When rainy days are few and far between, your rain barrel will provide your plants with a steady supply of hydration.
Maintenance Before Planting
Cleaning out your garden is only the first step. With all of the debris gone, you’ll be able to see what else may need to be repaired or replaced.
Repair Raised Beds
Raised garden beds are a tremendous solution for keeping pathway weeds out of your plots and preventing soil compaction. However, they can’t perform at their best if they suffered damage over the winter.
Look for any rotting boards or signs of bowed sides and fix these problems before you start planting. It’s much easier to correct these problems now than it is after you’ve already placed your precious seeds and starter plants in the soil.
Fix Trellises and Fencing
I love the way growing vines twist and twine their way around a trellis. It’s beautiful to look at, and there’s something really creative about training your plants to grow along the proper slat.
Before planting this year’s blooms, check out your trellises to see if they have any broken, missing or rotting slats. Fix these problems or replace the trellis if it’s too far gone.
Perform the same service for any fencing around your gardens. Fencing can be a wonderful tool for keeping unwanted pests, ranging from wildlife critters to the neighbor’s dog, out of your tender plantings, but only if there aren’t any holes.
Remove Stakes and Relax Wires
Staking is a marvelous and easy way to ensure that your plants grow straight and tall. However, you probably don’t need any stakes before the growing season has begun.
Remove them from the ground and check them for any signs of damage, replacing the ones that cannot be repaired.
Garden wire can be immensely useful for training vines or young trees. However, they may need to be relaxed in the spring to allow for better growth.
Clean and Sharpen Gardening Tools
Lubricating oil or rubbing alcohol can do an amazing job at cleaning up neglected gardening tools. Clean gardening tools not only last longer but also perform better.
Keep in mind that your gardening tools pick up all sorts of undesirable bits like mold and weed seeds. Removing these contaminants is essential to building a healthier garden.
While sharpening your garden tools seems like another one of those off-putting tasks, try not to neglect it. The sharper tools like pruners are, the better they perform and the easier they are to use.
Control Pests and Diseases
Removing pests may prevent them from destroying your crops. This may be accomplished in a variety of ways such as washing plants in a strong water spray, using garlic repellent sprays, using floating row covers and applying parasitic nematodes around plant roots.
While parasitic nematodes may sound like just another pest, they’re actually a good thing in gardens because they help to control all sorts of nasty insects.
Get Your Soil Ready
Your soil is the foundation of your plants. The healthier it is, the healthier your plants will be. Use these tips to ensure a better growing season.
Test Your Soil
Is your soil too alkaline or too acidic? The answer may determine whether or not your plants thrive.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the three most important elements to healthy soil. If they aren’t in a healthy balance in your garden, then your growing season will be a struggle.
Pick up a soil test kit at the local garden center or ask the Cooperative Extension Service to perform a soil test for you.
Recommended soil pH is in the range of 6 to 7.5. If your soil is below this range, it is acidic, and anything above this range may be too alkaline.
Alkaline soil may be addressed by adding elemental sulfur, sphagnum peat or organic mulch. The pH on acidic soil may be raised by adding powdered limestone.
Turn Your Soil
The natural elements tend to dry the surface of soil into a crust. This crust makes it hard for air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil, which means that roots cannot access these vital ingredients.
Turning the soil, whether you do it with a shovel or a cultivator, breaks through that crust so that your plant roots get what they need to survive and thrive. Turned soil also is much easier for newly germinated seeds to sprout through.
Prepare New Beds
I love the excitement of a new planting bed, but it does take work. First, figure out if any buried utility lines will interfere with your plans by calling your local utility company. If you have underground irrigation, make certain that you’ve identified these lines as well.
Use a garden hose to determine the size and shape of the new plot, then remove grass and plant material.
Consider placing a thick layer of newspapers across the entire plot to smother any weeds, plants or seeds, although this may be most advisable in the fall.
Use a tiller or shovel to turn over the soil in the new bed and mix in a good layer of compost. Next, a thick layer of mulch helps to smother any weed seeds exposed when the soil was tilled. Your new bed is ready for plants.
Adding compost to your garden provides natural fertilization, saves resources and saves you money, especially when you make your own.
Spring is a great time to spread your compost all over your garden so that your plants have all of the nutrients they need to thrive.
Fertilize Your Garden
If your plants need some extra nutrients to get them growing, then consider using a fertilizer. Whether you use chemical or organic fertilizers, it is best to proceed with caution. Fertilizer can be too much of a good thing, leading to burned, dying plants.
Accordingly, it is wise to use fertilizers only as directed. You’ll also want to pay special attention to your soil test to help you determine which nutrients your soil lacks. Understanding the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content in your fertilizer will ensure your success.
Divide, Clear and Mulch Perennial Beds
Perennial plants come back year after year, bringing color and excitement to any garden. Proper care ensures their performance.
At the same time, cut back last year’s growth, remove all debris and put down a protective layer of mulch.
Prepare Your Plants and Seeds
This is the part of spring gardening that can be the most fun. Finally, it’s time get growing!
Determine Your USDA Hardiness Zone
Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which plants are most likely to survive in your local area.
The USDA has already done the hard work of determining which plants grow best in which climates. Use this as a guide to choosing your plants so that your growing season can be more successful.
Choose Between Seeds or Starter Plants
Some crops like lettuce, peas, and beans are easy to grow from seeds. Others are more of a challenge. If you’re new to gardening, try some easy seed plants, but don’t hesitate to obtain starter plants instead.
Germinating seeds can be tricky, and starter plants give you a significant head start. However, this is a more expensive option.
Purchase Starter Plants, Seeds or Bulbs
Generally, I like to obtain a variety of starter plants, seeds, and bulbs. Crops like beans germinate quickly and easily, so I don’t mind starting from seeds.
Other things that grow more slowly make sense as starter plants. As for bulbs, I love watching them sprout from the ground in the spring.
Don’t forget your USDA hardiness zone when buying!
Plant Seed Crops Indoors
Early spring may be too cold for germinating seeds outdoors. Use an indoor greenhouse to do this, taking care to provide regular hydration.
Indoor seed planting lets you keep a closer eye on their progress and reminds you to keep watering and thin the seedlings.
Create a Planting Calendar
This handy tool reminds you of the best time and conditions for planting each of your planned crops.
Whether you’re using seeds or starter plants, stick to your planting calendar so that your success is less likely to be undermined by cold temperatures, frost or too much rain.
Harden Off Seedlings
Seedlings are young, tender plants that aren’t entirely ready to survive in the elements. Accordingly, you’ll want to introduce a gradual hardening off period to prepare them for eventual planting.
Choose a mild day to expose the seedlings to the outdoor elements for two to three hours. For a week or 10 days, gradually increase the hours of exposure to full sunlight.
Watering may be done less frequently, and fertilizer isn’t necessary. Move the plants indoors whenever temperatures are predicted to dip too low, letting exposure to cold increase with time.
Plant Your Seeds, Bulbs or Starter Plants Outdoors
When temperatures are consistently warm enough and the last frost date is behind you, it’s time to sow seeds and put starter plants in the ground. Use a weak fertilizer solution to stimulate growth.
Maintenance After Planting
Your work is only beginning, but watching your efforts pay off is immensely rewarding.
Water the Plants
Watering plants is most efficient when the garden truly needs the hydration. Accordingly, this means looking at and perhaps feeling the soil to determine whether or not water is needed.
Darker soil typically is wet enough, but if your soil is the color of a brown paper bag, then hydration is required.
Watering in the morning is recommended because it helps plants deal with the heat of the day. Also, this provides plenty of time for foliage to dry during the daylight hours. Wet foliage at night can encourage fungus and pests.
Soaker hoses buried beneath mulch are the most efficient watering systems because they get water where it’s needed: the roots.
Two inches of water per week is a good rule of thumb. Place an empty tuna can in your garden to gauge when you’ve reached that limit.
Organic mulch helps the soil and plant roots to maintain essential moisture. Similarly, it protects the roots from excessive heat.
A two- to three-inch layer of mulch laid around plants is sufficient to provide these benefits while also discouraging weeds.
Compost provides your plants with essential nutrients that they need as they get bigger and begin to bloom. Feel free to mix in some compost at the base of your plants to encourage steady growth.
Weeds are insidious invaders that steal essential nutrients, air and water from the plants you want to cultivate. Pull them out, getting as much of the root as possible, whenever they appear.
Applying a thick layer of mulch to the spot where a weed sprang up will discourage it from shooting up again.
Control Pests and Disease
Keep a sharp lookout for pests and diseases, which may manifest as dark spots on leaves or limp, unhealthy looking plants. The sooner you work toward addressing these issues, the easier they will be to correct.
It’s time for your spring gardening.
Your first step is to look at what needs cleaning in the garden. This could be pruning the shrubs, plants, and trees that have worn out. Removing weeds, dead branches, and leaves to help your garden breath. And to start your compost pile to get organic material for the garden.
You’ll reap the greatest rewards in your garden if you start off the growing season on the right foot. With these tips, you’ll see a successful crop of produce and blooms, helping you to gain confidence for your gardening.