It’s late winter. Maybe you’ve started your seeds indoors, but it will be several more weeks before those frost-free days when you can get them in the ground. Maybe you’re browsing through those plant catalogs or websites and making plans for some additions to your landscape. There’s more you can do now – some spring garden prep – during this “calm before the storm” to set you up well for a landscape in top shape.
Here’s a list of the Top Ten things I do this time of year to prepare for the busy planting season.
10 Things To Do Now
1. Prune for Structure and Shape. I spend a lot of time – now – walking around my property to observe the overall structure of my trees, plants, and shrubs. This is especially important, for maintaining my trees & shrubs with pruning.
This post-winter/pre-spring period is the perfect time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs for health and beauty. Plants are still in dormancy, so the cuts don’t stimulate new growth.
First thing first: I don’t like to selectively prune out more than one-third of a tree or shrub at one time. In other words, the material I remove overall is one third or less of the plant. Taking more than that – unless I’m removing dead material – could be too stressful for the plant.
Taking time to look at my plants and trees before they’ve leafed out is the best time to check for any inward growth which needs to be cleaned out. Promote outward-growing branches to allow air flow and light to reach the center-most areas of your plant. I also look for crossing or parallel tree branches, which should be removed.
This time of year, I look at my trees and shrubs as art pieces, pruning for form and shape. Pruning is part art as well as part science. If your plant looks good now, without foliage, it will look great once it is in full leaf and bloom.
I’ll admit, I spend a lot of time in my tree canopies this time of year. Climbing up into my trees carries some risk, so I’ll often hire – and strongly recommend – a certified arborist. They have the proper equipment and the knowledge to safely and appropriately prune those tall trees.
I’ve got lots of tips and advice on pruning, and it’s just too much to cover in this episode. If you want to learn where and how to make those cuts, you can listen and read all about pruning on my earlier podcast and post. I’ve also posted some great video information on my YouTube channel.
A word of pruning caution: Some flowering shrubs should not be pruned during this period. Great examples of these are oak leaf hydrangeas, rhododendron, and azaleas – all of which set their flower buds on old wood. If growth from last season or earlier are pruned now, you will also be removing the flower buds and will reduce the shrub’s bloom quantity come summer.
For plants that set buds on old wood (and there are many resources online that can help you discover which these are), it’s best to prune right after they finish flowering. That way, you’re removing growth before the plant has a chance to set those new flower buds for the following season.
For the many flowering shrubs that set their buds on new growth, this time of year is the ideal pruning opportunity.
2. Plant Trees & Shrubs Now. I recommend Fall as the best time to plant or transplant, but this time of year is your next best option. The cooler weather allows plants the most time to spread those roots and get comfortable in their new environment before the stressors of summer heat.
If there is a plant you wanted to move or transplant last season but didn’t get around to it, now is your chance to dig it up and introduce it to a new location.
As always when planting, be sure to water everything in well to remove air pockets, settle the soil around the roots, and keep the soil moist. I’ve written and recorded my fair share on best planting practices. I’ve got some posts here, on joegardener.com, that you can find by searching for “planting” and a great one to get you started is my 5 Steps for Planting post and video, or you can also watch the process on my YouTube channel.
3. Add Mulch. This is the perfect time to get that mulch down. A key benefit to mulch is weed suppression, so setting up that mulch barrier now will save you weeding time during the growing season.
If your beds aren’t planted tightly enough to prevent the sun from reaching the soil or if you have any open areas, a 2” (or deeper) layer of mulch will block the sun from germinating those weed seeds.
Mulch also reduces soil erosion from heavy rain and will insulate soil from summer heat – which helps keep the soil moist and reduces the need for supplemental watering.
This time of year, it’s also much easier to get underneath your plants to spread that mulch. I recommend spreading up to within a couple of inches of the base of the plant. It’s best not to push the mulch up along the trunk, as that can create an easier path for pests and disease.
4. Tackle Structural Projects. Any of those big projects which have been on your mind but you haven’t gotten around to doing them? Now is the time! For example: adding a new walkway, a retaining wall, a water feature, or — in my case — a deer fence.
By tackling that project now, you won’t have to worry about it during the busy growing season. Instead, you’ll have the rest of the year to enjoy the fruits of this season’s labor.
5. Divide Perennials. As temperatures and the soil first start to warm up, perennials like your hostas will begin to emerge. Those perennials (which have matured in previous seasons) can easily be divided to add a lot more plants – for free – to other areas of your landscape.
Use a sharp shovel or spade, and cut down through the center of the plant. Dig up a section, and plant it in another area of your landscape. This time of year is ideal for that, allowing the divisions to take hold before summer.
6. Tune-up Irrigation Systems. Whether it’s your in-ground lawn irrigation or your drip or soaker system, they all need to be checked. Although it may be too cold to turn the water on, watch for that first or second warm weekend when you can test out your system in advance of the planting season.
For in-ground systems, you’ll want to check that the rotors are turning properly, that the flow patterns are correct, that the timer is programmed as it should be, etc. It’s easy to forget that those winter power outages can cause your timer to reset.
Take the time now to check your drip irrigation and soaker hose connections and emitter heads and that the lines are where they need to be. If there was any water in your plastic timer when you experienced a freeze in early winter, it’s better to discover now that those timers may need replacing.
7. Prep Garden Beds. Every March, I clear out and clean up my raised garden beds. I live in Atlanta, so I can grow crops all year round. This time of year, I’m clearing out the remains of my cool season crops and preparing for my warm season varieties.
I take out the old growth and add it to my compost pile. I’ll rake out most of the debris. In other words, I’m getting the beds ready to amend their soil before planting.
8. Amend Your Soil. I love this part. I amend my soil with compost twice each year. The first time is typically in March to plant I’ve taken Step 7 of clearing out and cleaning up. The second time is in fall when I’m clearing out and cleaning up my summer crops to prepare planting for my cool season vegetables. The fun just never ends.
I’m adding compost a few weeks before I will be planting. This allows time for the soil microbes and all the other beneficial organisms to work with the biology already at work in your beds. Those new beneficial organisms have time to reproduce, and you will really see the payoff in your plants.
To amend my soil, I add about one inch of compost to the surface of all my raised beds. I may turn that compost into the existing soil, but I usually just let the compost sit on top.
I have really healthy soil, and there is a lot of good things going on under the surface already. So, I don’t want to disturb that. I can let the microbes work that new compost in on their own.
When I’m improving my soil in fall, I use up all the compost I’ve built up over the spring and summer. I continue to make new compost throughout the winter, and I use that compost now.
If I don’t have enough finished compost on-hand, I will often purchase some bags or a bulk load of certified compost. If you do purchase compost, be sure that what you are buying is reliable and safe to add to your garden. It’s so important to trust your compost source. I’ve learned the hard way that one application of tainted compost can have long-term consequences.
Think of your raised beds like a bank account. Your plants are making soil withdrawals, so you need to be making soil health deposits.
The year you built your raised beds, and you filled them with that good soil you purchased, you probably had a good crop. If you amended your soil for that second year, you probably noticed your garden was even better. By that third year, you were really seeing great results.
That’s because amended soil continues to mature – like fine wine – getting better and better. Notice, I said, “amended soil continues to mature.” Each time you amend the soil with organic material, you build on the soil maturity of the previous season.
9. Attend to Your Compost Bin. You’ve probably just harvested a lot of compost material in Step 7. Take the time now to get organized and ensure you have the proper and efficient compost set-up.
Check out my compost podcast and my free comprehensive Compost Resource Guide, where I dive into all you need to know to make composting easy and bountiful.
10. Prepare Your Tools. Your garden tools need to be in top condition to help you be successful throughout the season. Clean off the rust, the grime, and the residue from your pruners, the blades on shovels, etc.
Most good pruners are made with the ability to buy and install replacement parts or – at a minimum – sharpen the blade. Pruning with a dull blade is the worst thing you can do to your plants. Rather than a clean cut, which heals quickly and promotes growth, you will end up with a tear or a wound and create the opportunity for disease.
Use some steel wool and some oil to sharpen your shovels, so that they are at the ready for this season.
For those tools with a wooden handle, I recommend a light sanding with fine-grit sandpaper. Run the sandpaper up the handle a bit, and then, rub a little linseed oil into the wood.
I’m a frugal gardener, but I also believe you get what you pay for. Invest in quality tools, and invest the time to care for them properly. They will last you a lifetime.
Don’t forget to clean up that tool shed. Sometimes things don’t always make it back to home base when you are really busy during growing season. This is the time to put everything back in its place.
If you have a peg board or other flat surface where you can hang your tools, I recommend outlining the tool with a marker. The outline provides a visual reminder when the tool hasn’t been put back. You’ll know what’s missing, so you can go and find where you left it.
So, there’s my list of Top Ten things to do for garden preparation. This is not an exhaustive list of all you need to do to prepare, but it is a high-level idea list to get you started.
If you haven’t already done so, you may want to listen to the podcast (linked at the top of the page) where I share a few other personal experiences.
Stay tuned for the next several weeks for my upcoming podcast on raised bed gardening and my comprehensive resource guide on the subject. I’ve been gardening in raised beds for many years now; so I’ll be sharing my experiences, providing advice on what I’ve learned, and offering all the information I can to help you develop bountiful raised beds.
Because I’ve been doing this so long, I know there are some things that I take for granted. I would really love to hear any questions that you would like me to be sure to answer in my raised bed resources. You can email me directly your raised bed garden question. It’s important to me to answer all your questions, so I look forward to hearing from you.
Links & Resources
Episode 016: Composting Guide A to Z: The Quick and Dirty on Everything Compost
Episode 029: My Five Biggest Gardening Mistakes of All Time (and What I Learned From Them)
joe gardener Blog: Five Key Steps for Planting Trees & Shrubs Like the Pros
joe gardener Blog: Pruning 101: The Pruning Basics from A to Z
joegardenerTV: Biggest Pruning Mistakes And How to Avoid Them
joegardenerTV: How To Plant A Tree The Right Way – 7 Steps To Getting It Right Every Time
The Complete Guide to Home Composting
Milorganite® – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com
0 Responses to “040-Prepping Your Garden For Spring: 10 Things To Do Now”
Joe, this is a good podcast. You should repost it every year at this time as a reminder.
A couple of weeks ago we had a thaw. My bark mulch pile loosened up enough that enabled me to get 1 landscape bed mulched. The next morning we awoke to a fresh coating of snow. And then the temps dropped. But it felt so good being outside doing that job and having completed that 1 bed.
So yes, all of your tips here are a great way to get ready, ease that cabin fever and just feel good about getting those tasks finished.
Thanks again Joe!Forrest Jones
Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania
Thanks Forrest. Yes, every little step adds up. It is a great relief when you have those little victories along the way. Especially as spring is coming soon and we will have plenty to do.
Hi Joe! Great podcast. I have just started listening and have really enjoyed the last 6 episodes. Now to go back further. I am a second year gardener and have fell in love with it (obsessed might be a better term)! At the end of last season I tripled the size of my garden and followed your instructions for building my own pallet compost bins. Now they are full! I also was very discouraged with all the weeds I was getting so I did a big layer of arborist wood chips last year on the top of everything. My question for you is how do I add my compost to my garden beds now that they have 6” of wood chips on the top? Do I rake away the chips, add the compost to the top and then rake the chips back over? I am in zone 6b and so am hoping to do this in the next few weeks to get my beds ready. Thanks for all and how you make me feel like I can do this.
Hey Aaron! I can totally relate to your obsession and exuberance! And good job with the pallet compost bin and your use of arborist wood chips.
Normally the 6″ of cover would be great, but you can’t plant into that, at last not a vegetable garden. You’ll need to pull that away wherever you’re going to plant. Then add your compost layer. Then you can add some mulch back. Just not too thick. I think about 2″ deep. And keep it pulled slightly away from base of plants.
Good luck Aaron!
Hi Joe! I have really enjoyed your podcasts. Always enjoy hearing the pearls of wisdom from Craig as well! I am glad you reminded me it was time to divide. I was so excited to see something green emerging from the ground, I didn’t even think of dividing! I suppose this also includes day lilies?
Hi Shelley. Yes! Daylilies are seriously tough plants. In fact, they benefit from periodically thinning out the masses for overall performance. All your lilies will do better and you’ll have more plants.
Hi Joe. This was a great podcast as always. There is always something to do in the garden and these 10 are a good start to getting the garden ready for the busy times ahead. I think the last one is especially important. I actually posted on my blog as part of my series on what a gardener can do to stay productive in winter, an article about maintaining your tools in winter so you have less to do in spring.Another critical task is to ensure you have all the supplies you need. Fertilizers, plant tags, string, stakes and other items you might have used up last growing season.
Hi Joe! You posed the question on today’s podcast (number 57) about whether or not people would be willing to pay for a streaming service, to view a new show that you are producing, My answer would be Yes. Honestly, I just discovered GGW a few months ago, after tuning in to your podcast, and it made me realize how much I missed seeing quality gardening shows. I’m a fan of streaming services, because I’m not a fan of commercials (at least not when I have to sit thru them for 10 minutes at a stretch, very 15 minutes…) so it’s worth it to me to pay a subscription. Also- the streaming services have a lot more control over content so you know what are seeing is what the show creator envisioned.Thanks so much for the weekly podcast and for all of your amazing information. This years batch of tomato seedlings are the best I’ve ever had (last year was a bust and I was pretty much going to give up..) and my garden is really flourishing this year. Your advice on compost and mulching made all of the difference.
Hi Joe. After listening to podcast 57 I think the success of your programs over the years, especially GGW, is showing the audience that learning about gardening doesn’t have to be difficult! Information is presented in a very practical way, giving confidence to those just starting out and show more experienced gardeners a different way of doing things. Making a difference doesn’t have to be on a large scale either. As we all know, there is no one perfect way to garden.I’m a lunch lady at an elementary school and have taken over the raised beds on our front patio this year. Since the growing season and the school year don’t coincide very well for produce, I have decided to focus on seeds. We planted lettuces in the spring and had a taste testing at lunch one day. Kids were very excited to see how their seeds had grown and were excited to try the lettuce! I’m letting other plants produce seed heads to be harvested and saved in fall. This process is perfect for young children with short attention spans and the variety of seed pods and seeds is amazing. It’s important for them to learn that saving seeds was how our ancestors survived. And that many parts of the world must still do that.Thanks for the great information and links for further guidance!
Hi Shelley. I so appreciate your comment here and I LOVE your idea of having a taste test with the lettuce that the students started from seed. Now that’s great engagement that I know will have them coming back for more and lighting that spark of curiosity to know and do more. Keep up the great work.
Hey Drew. This is great feedback. Thank you. And I’m very happy to know my other info has been helpful to you too. Thanks for your reply.
Great Podcast Joe. I have been asking HGTV where is the G at. I miss Paul James and Erica. I watch GGW. All of P Allen’s Show. I have been to Moss Mountain Farm 3 Time. Met Allen 2 times, That is my favorite garden. I watch Mid America Gardener, Garden Smart, Garden Answer on youtube by Proven Winners. I will check out Netflix and Hortus tv. Thank You for Joe the Gardener and GGW. Keep up the good gardening.
Hello Joe,Millenial here. My husband and I were just discussing the other day how HGTV has inspirational/entertaining content, but nothing actually educational anymore. We bought our first home 3 years ago, and have been fixing up the house/garden, since. For inspiration & education, we’ve turned to PBS as our go-to resource. Cable network has long been neglecting this genre, and it’s truly unfortunate. As a little girl, I used to love watching quirky “Paul the Gardener Guy”. It helped expose me to gardening at a young age.Thankfully, you haven’t given up on us, yet. There are new avenues popping up with great content all the time. I love listening to your podcast, while I’m actually working in the garden. I get to learn, while getting my hands dirty at the same time. It’s been great to see Netflix pulling in more gardening content from the BBC, and BBC gardening shows being available on various streaming platforms, as well. I certainly believe that there would be plenty of support for more great content. Thanks for taking the time to provide it, and teach us “newbie” gardeners!
Hi Joe! I might be willing to pay a subscription depending on the content. Would this be similar to hortustv?
Hi Joe! You took the words out of my mouth on what happened to the G. As others have mentioned, I loved those gardening shows and have turned to PBS where your show is one of the best. Congratulations on your Emmy, it is well deserved. I have also enjoyed your appearances on Garden Smart.I am a Baby Boomer and still like to watch on my TV and give my support/contributions to PBS for that privilege. However if that option isn’t available, I do turn to other venues and would support quality programs from people like you. I am constantly amazed that there isn’t gardening programming produced in the Rocky Mountain region where I live as we have special conditions and issues that other areas of the country don’t experience. As many people are going back to gardening and saving seeds, there is a real need for educational programming. I appreciate shows that go in depth for those of us that aren’t new to gardening but can always learn more. I will be looking into HortusTV as I had no knowledge it existed.Thank you for the wealth of information you provide in all the various forms. I don’t know where you find the time but it is very much appreciated.
As an exterior designer, I’m not gardening per se, but I do hear this question all.the.time and have never had a great answer. It’s good to hear from someone who has been in the business a long time to see all the trends in TV to really drive it home for me. I produce a web series about exterior, landscape design, and teaching people how to design like a pro, so I totally understand the woes of funding and the lows from not getting picked up. Hang in there! At least that’s what I keep telling myself 😉
As someone who grew up watching HGTV, The Food Network and the Travel Channel I’ve seen the changes in programming on each evolve first hand. Not only is there now no more G on HGTV, but there’s also little to no F on The Food Network or T on the Travel Channel.It’s been my experience that a cable channel starts with programming that fits a specific topic and then everything begins to become more general and tends to follow whatever trends in tv (competitions, countdowns, extreme X, Y or Z) shown on network television.I can’t speak for other viewers, but it seems to me that this has less to do with what people want to see and more to do with how the business of tv is “supposed to” work. There seems to be a lot of disrespectful assumptions going on in tv professional circles about audiences and what we want that, for this viewer at least, miss the mark entirely.I’ve appreciated GGW from the first time I saw it on PBS in season 1. You don’t make assumptions about viewers. You don’t talk down to us. You don’t treat us like we’re the human equivalent of chattering monkeys on speed (no offense meant to any chattering monkeys on speed out there, of course). You simply tell your stories clearly, honestly and well with a consistency of style that still allows for growth and change.I’m very tired of tv’s change-for-change-sake, or new-is-always-better, business model. There are other ways to do tv show business and I really appreciate your varied and studied thoughts and suggestions about this in this podcast, Joe.As always, thank you for what you and your team do. I would watch (and listen to) you anywhere – in any format.
Well said Berlin! And thanks so much for your words of support for the work we’re doing here. But my favorite part of your message – The last sentence. Love that! Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts here.
Thank you Maribeth. You know another challenge to producing gardening shows, besides finding the funding, is that it’s just darn hard to produce an outdoor show! So many sound, weather and environmental issues working against you all the time. There is never a show where everything goes smoothly and it’s nearly always related to issues beyond our control.Producing a gardening show with high production values is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. So I’m not surprised there are not more shows like ours. It’s very challenging not only on your budget, but on your nerves as well!
Hi Melissa. Still working through our model. In some ways yes, including access to all the HD shows we produce for my PBS series. In addition, we’d produce new content exclusively for the web channel, including new series as part of our current thoughts on future programming. Also, there would be extra features currently not part of anything we’ve seen online so far.
That’s all I can say for now. We’re still fleshing this out but really appreciate your feedback as we work through this.
Love this Tari. Thank you. I too love Paul James and found his shows to be fantastic for learning and laughing.
And thanks for the words of support as we continue to look for new opportunities to scratch your gardening itch so to speak. We’re just getting started and want to make sure we are wherever you want to find us.
Thanks for writing.
Thanks Marc. Love your ideas for staying ahead. Spring gardening hits us like a fast moving freight train so anything we can do to be ready is huge! Thanks for adding your thoughts here.
Great podcast! Over the years we have had similar discussions about many of the issues that you bring forth here. I hope you know that I am a loyal and true constant reader/viewer (royalty check to Stephen K for using that one) and if a subscription service is the only way to go then yes, I am in. However, I remember my Ramen Noodles days and as long as I had enough money (or credit) to pay the electric bill I could turn on PBS and see ‘In The Garden’, or ‘Victory Garden’, or ‘This Old House’. With such a good positive message that GGW and ‘that other guy’ from Arkansas brings each week I would truly hope that there are other Corporate underwriters like Subaru that would step forward and underwrite the shows so everyone has the opportunity to learn skills that are not only rewarding to the body in nutrition but in spirit as well. Keep up the great work and let’s do this together!
I understand but they really need to change their name if they are going to leave out the garden bit.
Thank you for addressing this issue. I too loved the “G” in HGTV, one of my favorite shows was “A Gardener’s Diary”. I’ve written to them a few times asking where the “G” went with no response. It’s so sad, what is a home without a garden??? Maybe they should change their name to the RETV (Real Estate TV). 🙁
I think the membership idea is the future. I’m 60 years old and I find myself watching more videos on the computer and less television. I usually watch 2 to 3 gardening videos a day and really enjoy the Joe Gardener videos. thank you Joe for your shows, and the Bronx show deserved the Emmy. It touched me so that I ordered his book. keep up the great work!!
I have watched many of these garden shows come and go and the decision to add a “younger hipper” host is usually what killed them, I believe. My husband and I are working on a local garden website using video, drones, interviews, etc and right now, we are self funded but hoping to find sponsors. We can relate to so many of the topics you mentioned in this podcast. Youtube has replaced the garden shows for me, but I have to be very picky about what I watch since so much of the youtube media is personal opinion and not well researched. I often go to https://www.youtube.com/wat… This site for referrals on what is worth watching. The nice thing about youtube is you can speed up and watch a 20 minute video in half the time!
Thanks for the great job you do with the show, website, facebook, podcast, etc.
https://goodgardeningvideos…This is the correct link to the curated site: Good Gardening videos.
Thanks again for this podcast. I’m a Gen X’er who doesn’t watch TV other than the occasional PBS show. I do however listen to podcasts regularly. I watched a handful of Growing a Greener World episodes 7 years ago, but just don’t sit down long enough to watch the show, even online. So, I value the Joe Gardener podcast so much! I trust the Joe Gardener resources and rely on them heavily for my education, especially troubleshooting. I even bought some Milorganite this year to support the podcast. But I would pay small monthly fee in order to keep this information coming. Without Joe Gardener, I would be lost. Thank you for everything that is Joe Gardener.
And thank you Jennifer for you comment here. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. And in this case, I really appreciate the kind words of support to the joe gardener mission!
Thanks for your feedback on how you might support future programming as we explore all the opportunities to keep delivering the content you count on! Thanks again for your reply!
I recently found your podcast and am enjoying it so much. It’s so dense with information, yet not intimidating/ overwhelming, so thank you! I think I’m technically a Gen-Xer, but I only watch TV through streaming services and would definitely be willing to pay a subscription fee for gardening shows. I wonder if your show, ‘Fresh From the Garden’ is available anywhere to stream/ or purchase as dvds? Thank you again…I’m looking forward to making my way through all the podcast episodes in the coming months.
Hi Sarah. Thanks so much for this great feedback. And I am so glad you are enjoying all the podcasts!Great to know you would be willing to consider a subscription type / fee model to access garden programming. We continue to explore the options and your thoughts here are so helpful!As for accessing episodes of Fresh from the Garden, I have not been able to find them anywhere! I suspect it’s not on DIY Networks radar to do that either. However, as the host of that show for its entire life, I do see an opportunity to bring you much of that as new content that we would create, potentially as part of that subscription model.So keep listening and stay in touch as we work through the many considerations. We’ll keep you posted on our progress as we figure this all out. Thanks again for writing!
Glad to find you. HGTV is nothing more than a contractor show. No DIY anything. It would seem especially in the spring, there would be gardening show, how goes and tips. Surprisingly, Big Box retailers are missing a “green” opportunity to sponsor and sell their products from tools, equipment, soil amendments, plants, landscaping and garden decor product, etc.
I enjoy watching your shows immensely. There is nothing like visual learning. I did belong to Hortus but that was discontinued and no longer available. With the dwindling garden shows I am thrilled to know you will continue to show and inspire us to get out into our gardens, which is a healthy part of life. I am not a fan of podcasts but will listen here and there.
I prefer having access to the series on PBS, without additional memberships. Everything seems to be membership now and it is too much to keep up with.