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Spring Gardening Tips

Mar 22nd 2011 at 11:00 AM

Spring is the time of the year to prepare your garden, whether new or existing, for the glorious blooms to come. Early spring is the time to start cool weather veggies in cold frames, and flower seedlings for the summer season.

Prepping the Beds

As soon as weather permits, start carefully raking out beds, removing winter mulch, rose collars and cones. Be careful not to walk in delicate flowerbeds when they are wet; wait until the soil is dry. Otherwise, you run the risk of compacting the soil and inadvertently stepping on and damaging new growth. Clean up old leaves, broken branches, and debris accumulated during winter. Cut back any perennials that you may have left for winter interest, such as grasses and seed heads. Newly emerging plants are difficult to recognize, so "if its green," don't touch it until it matures a bit more.

If you are going to divide existing plants or put in new plants, you will need to know the soil and site conditions (for example, pH, drainage, organic content, whether the soil is moist or dry, or the site is sunny or shady). Your plants will thrive if they are given the right environmental and cultural conditions. If your soil needs help, compost may be what you need. Compost improves the structure of the soil, helps the soil retain moisture, and provides nutrients for the plants. Make sure to mix it in to a depth of three or four inches, being careful not to disturb roots of existing plants. If you find that you need to fertilize, use an organic, slow-release product, which makes nutrients available to the plant over a longer period of time. Remember that with fertilizers, less is more.

Planning and Planting

Divide fall-flowering perennials to rejuvenate the original plant and give you new plants for other parts of your garden. In addition, early spring is an ideal time to make any design changes to your garden.

Annuals should be planted in the spring after the last frost date. Annuals are used in gardens for accent and color because they bloom continually throughout the summer. Perennials give you a wide range of leaf textures and colors, varying bloom times, and continuity in the garden throughout the season.

After Planting

Once everything is planted, you need to water your garden. The first seasonal watering should be very thorough and deep, then water deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather.

You can now add one or two inches of mulch. Mulch is a layer of compost, wood chips, or shredded bark that is spread on bare areas around the plants. It helps to retain water, keep plant roots cool in hot weather, suppress weeds, and add nutrients to the soil. Be sure the mulch is an inch or two away from the plant stems to provide good air circulation around the crown of the plant and to avoid insects and diseases.

It is important to "dead head" (i.e. cut away dead blooms), water, and weed as needed. Knowing your soil and site conditions, selecting the right plants, and employing proper maintenance will ensure a beautiful garden all season long.


Cold snaps won't hurt emerging leaves or closed buds, so don’t cover those little tulip shoots with mulch. You will probably do more damage trying to protect them than if you just left them alone. Open flowers, however, can suffer from sudden freezing and may benefit from protective mulching. Petals will turn brown around the edges from weather-related “freezer burn”, but this will not harm the plant itself nor affect its ability to bloom next season. If you have open flowers and a cold snap is imminent, cut the blooms and bring them indoors to enjoy.

When bulbs are finished blooming, wait until they turn yellow and fall over before you cut or mow the bulb foliage. There are nutrients in the greenery and cutting them back will deprive you of great looking blossoms this spring. Don't tie the foliage to keep it up straight. This will choke the plants, preventing them from getting necessary nutrients. You can always hide droopy die-back by planting later blooming perennials. Always plant bulbs with pointy side up for the fastest and strongest blooms. Blooms are more likely to come back year after year if they are planted in a well drained spot in sandy humus enriched soil.


Fertilizing early can stunt back or even kill spring weeds. There are many types on the market, pick a fertilizer or pre-emergent that is suitable for your area. Most lawn care experts say fertilize every 6 to 8 weeks, with a slow release fertilizer. If you have a tender grass like Fescue you should use a mild fertilizer.

Give your Bermuda Grass lawn a boost with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. For plants such as bottle brush, pyracantha, hibiscus and silk oaks you can prevent the early appearance of iron deficiency by applying chelated iron.

Container Gardening

Spring is also a wonderful time of year for planting containers. If you are looking for “instant results” check out what’s available at your local nurseries. If you are willing to be a little patient, planting containers with seeds can yield a greater variety of plants and colors.

The best part of container gardening is that you can quickly move the planters into a sheltered location if the weather threatens to turn wintery again.

How to Make Non-Toxic Aphid Repellant

Hose off plants with a mixture of 1 teaspoon lemon scented dish detergent and one quart water.

A tip from rose gardeners: spray your plants with “compost tea”. To mix up a batch, tie 1/2 cup worm castings in cheesecloth or an old sock and soak the bag in a gallon of water for about an hour. The compost tea is also an excellent fertilizer. Just water your plants with the leftovers.

Watering Wisely

Water conservation is on everyone’s mind these days. Be sure and water wisely by watering deeply and infrequently. Check to make sure drip lines and sprinkler heads are working properly and are not leaking or clogged. If you get good spring rains, adjust the schedule for your drip and sprinkler systems so that they don’t run as often.

Time to Plant Vegetables & Herbs

Seeds. Here is a list of herbs and vegetables that you can start from seed:

Herbs: basil, catnip, chamomile, chives, fennel, feverfew, tarragon, lemon balm, lemon grass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, scented geraniums, thyme, yarrow.

Vegetables: beans, beets, carrots, chicory, corn, cucumbers, endive, melons, okra, radishes, summer squash, swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, kale, head and leaf lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips, turnips, peas, radishes, spinach.

Transplants and Seedlings. Vegetables: asparagus (crowns 1-2 yrs old), broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, garlic (cloves), okra, onions (sets), peppers, potatoes (sprouted eyes), pumpkin, tomatoes.

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