The spring season is here, and the prolonged sunshine invites us to be outside more. This means it's also time to start your spring garden planning! Even though there aren't many flowers poking their heads out of the dirt just yet, you can start stretching your gardening muscles now to get a jump start for summer! Here are some essential steps to get your garden ready for the season.
1. Plan Your Garden's Spacing
The truth is, planning for a spring garden should start by the end of summer, well before spring comes back around. Making note of where there are blank spots in your garden, which plants are taking up too much space, and which will need to be pruned or divided can help you start mapping things out well in advance. However, if you didn't take any notes last year, don't worry—you can make some plans now as to where you want extra flowers or plants, how big they should be, and what needs to be moved around. Think of it like moving furniture around in your house!
2. Clear Out Beds
Now comes the fun part: getting your hands and knees dirty! After the threat of frost is past, put on your gardening gloves and get to work. Pro tip: you can find the estimated last frost date for your area by entering your zip code into the Old Farmer's Almanac website. They also have a handy Gardening Tasks By Month list that you can search by zip code, too!
Kick off the hands-on work by throwing any twigs and excess fallen leaves into a compost bin. My favorite gardener likes to tuck the most decomposed bottom layer of leaves into the soil around her plants. This can serve as your first layer of mulch and act as a free, natural fertilizer, too. Next, cut off any spent plant remains from last season and add these cuttings to your compost bin, too.
3. Add Compost and Supports
Now that your garden beds are clear, add some compost to feed your soil. You can spread it throughout your garden with a shovel, and then work it into the soil with your spade. Be sure to add lime or wood ashes around where you'll be planting any alkaline-loving plants, such as delphiniums, clematis, forsythia, lilac, and dianthus. As for your acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, blueberry, and hibiscus, spread pine needles or sphagnum peat moss.
Adding material to the soil is exponentially easier in the spring because your plants aren't in the way yet. This is also a good time to add supports for clematis, peonies, cosmos, phlox, or other floppy plants so they can grow through the supports before they start to fall over. Try propping up branches in your yard or tie bamboo poles together to keep your garden eco-friendly.
Side note: spring is also an ideal time to start your first compost pile. You can collect the existing decomposing leaves in your yard and garden to begin, and then add any additional garden waste you prune or pull throughout the season.
4. Select New Plants
Flower bulbs are best planted in the fall, but spring is the optimal time to plant just about everything else. Did you plot out which blank spots in your garden need to be filled in? Again, keep in mind how large your existing plants will grow to be, as well as the plants you intend to add. Divide any perennials that have gotten too large as a first step to filling in any gaps.
Plant shopping is also the perfect time to support your local economy by shopping for new plants and annuals in your town's garden center—beyond the big box stores. Chat with the employees, who are often gardening experts, and ask them any questions you may have, such as which milkweed plant is native to your area.
Bonus fact: planting milkweed provides monarch butterflies with their only food source, according to the Save Our Monarchs Foundation. So, after choosing your plants and supporting your local garden store, you can also support your local monarch butterflies and do your part for an endangered species!
5. Prune Your Shrubs and Trees
Now is also the time to prune your shrubs and trees. The Arbor Day Foundation says to never prune more than a fourth of a plant at a time and to always use a sharp tool. Cut larger branches outside the swollen area where the branch and tree connect (the ridge collar), but don't leave a stub sticking out. If it's a smaller limb with no collar, you can cut closer. Also, hold off on pruning shrubs that bloom in early spring, such as forsythia, andromeda, or witch hazel.
6. Prepare for Summer Weeds
When summer sets in, your tasks in the garden will change, and you'll be plenty busy watering and weeding. When the weeds appear, be ready to them dig out with a weed puller or weed killer. To keep things environmentally friendly, look for products with ingredients such as acetic acid or clove oil, and avoid those that contain chemicals such as glyphosate.
In our garden, we use a sprayer filled with white vinegar, a tablespoon of table salt, and a tablespoon of dish soap. This mixture is easy to make, environmentally friendly, and great at taking out dandelions, poison ivy, and thistles.
Once you get back in your garden, you'll feel great reconnecting with nature after a long winter!
What else are you doing to get your flower gardens ready for the season? What's on your spring gardening to-do list? Let us know on Twitter!
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Why It's Good
Once the winter frosts are over, you can get back to work in your garden to foster local plants and wildlife. Gardening is good for the soul and strengthens your connection with the earth!