The growing season is quickly approaching, and there are a number of things to take care of now to get the best results during the rest of the year. This week, I present a timely encore of my list of the Top 10 Things to Do Now to Prepare the Garden for Spring.
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a jumping-off point to create your own spring checklist. Depending on what region you garden in, your growing season may begin sooner or later, but in general, the window of time to complete these tasks is now. In the weeks to come as gardening demands pile up, you’ll be glad that this work is out of the way.
For a more comprehensive summary of the 10 things to do to prepare the garden for spring, you can check out the show notes from the original airing.
Also, as promised in this podcast episode, you can download my free resource, The Complete Guide to Home Composting, to learn everything you need to know to start composting effectively. Compost is one of the best amendments for improving garden soil, and the great thing about it is you can make it for free while recycling valuable organic materials rather than sending them to a landfill.
Here is my quick rundown of the 10 projects to tackle before the growing season begins:
1. Prune for Structure and Shape.
Early spring is the perfect time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs to enhance their health and beauty. Plants are still in dormancy while the days and night are cool, cuts now won’t stimulate new growth.
Trees and shrubs should be pruned by no more than one-third to remain healthy and vigorous. Removing any more of the plant — excluding dead material, which can be pruned wholesale — may be too stressful for the plant.
2. Plant Trees & Shrubs
Fall is generally the best time to plant or transplant trees and shrubs, but early spring is your next best option. The cool weather allows plants time to spread their roots and get acclimated to a new environment before the stress of summer heat sets in.
Be sure to water in transplants well. This removes air pockets, settles the soil around the roots, and keeps the soil moist. It’s also important to backfill with native soil rather than compost or enriched soil, so the roots will reach out in search of resources rather than staying contained in the planting hole.
There is a lot more to know about planting and transplanting trees and shrubs. I have a video and accompanying blog post that gives all the details: Five Key Steps for Planting Trees & Shrubs Like the Pros.
3. Add Mulch
Organic mulch — shredded leaves, arborists’ wood chips, straw, etc. — has many benefits, but especially this time of year, mulch is important because it suppresses weeds. A 2-inch mulch barrier applied now will prevent many weed seeds from germinating as the temperature warms. Mulching now will save you a lot of time weeding later.
Mulch applied now will also reduce soil erosion or compaction from heavy rain and will insulate soil from summer heat — which will keep soil moist between waterings.
Spreading mulch now is much easier than later in the season once plants have grown in and become difficult to get under. But don’t apply mulch along the trunk of a tree or shrub as it can create an easier path for pests and disease.
4. Tackle Structural Projects
As the growing season progresses, there will be so many more tasks to tackle. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and then put off structural improvements until the following year. But now, there is less immediate work to do, and more time to take on structural improvements in the garden.
Get that new walkway, retaining wall, water feature, or a deer fence taken care of now, and enjoy the fruits of your labor all summer. You won’t have to worry about it during the busy growing season.
5. Divide Perennials
For overgrown perennials, dividing them can increase their vigor while also providing you with free plants. As a general rule, fall-blooming perennials and warm-season grasses should be divided in spring so they can take hold before summer.
Hostas and daylilies are two examples of plants that should be divided at this time of year. Using a sharp shovel or spade, cut down through the center of the plant. Dig up and remove a section, and transplant it to another area of your landscape.
6. Tune-up Irrigation Systems
Both in-ground lawn irrigation systems and above-ground drip or soaker hose systems for gardens should be inspected before they are turned on for the year. Check for sprinkler-head damage, tears in lines and loose or broken connectors and emitters. When the first warm weekend arrives, turn on the water and monitor closely for leaks. Ensure that the timing system is programmed as it should be.
7. Prep Garden Beds
Once temperatures consistently exceed 50 degrees, overwintering insects have awakened, and it’s time to clean our garden beds of plant debris to prepare for a new crop.
Old growth should be removed and added to a compost pile. This not only makes room for new plantings, it clears the way for applications of soil amendments.
8. Amend Your Soil
Twice a year, I amend my soil with compost — once after clearing out and cleaning up in March, and again in fall when cleaning out summer crops to prepare to plant cool-season vegetables.
To allow time for the soil microbes and other beneficial organisms in compost to improve the garden, I add the compost a few weeks before I plan to start planting. I apply about one inch of compost to the surface of all my raised beds. It can be scratched into the soil surface, or just allowed to sit on top to do its good work.
If I don’t have enough finished compost on-hand, I will often purchase some bags or a bulk load of certified compost. Questionable compost may contain contaminants and even persistent herbicides, so it’s extremely important to only purchase compost from a trusted source.
9. Attend to Your Compost Bin
Organic materials will break down more quickly and efficiently in a proper composting setup. For everything you need to know to make compost confidently, you can download my free resource, The Complete Guide to Home Composting.
10. Prepare Your Tools.
Quality gardening tools can last a lifetime if they are cared for properly, and when kept in top condition, they will help you be a successful gardener all season. Clean off the rust, grime, and residue from pruners, lops, shovels, etc. to keep them in service and working their best.
Pruners should be sharpened at least annually to ensure clean cuts that will heal quickly to keep pathogens out. Most quality pruners have the ability to replace parts that have become overly worn — and that’s more economical than purchasing a new set.
Use some steel wool and oil to sharpen shovel blades, and for tools with wooden handles, give the handles a light sanding with fine-grit sandpaper then rub linseed oil into the wood.
If you haven’t already done so, you can listen to this episode for more details on the Top 10 Things to Do Now to Prepare the Garden for Spring by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
What spring garden preparations would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Exmark, Greenhouse Megastore, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and Wild Alaskan Seafood Box. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.