Spring clean-up of the garden

Getting Ready For Spring — 10 Tips

It doesn't seem like it, but spring is just weeks away. Now is the time to begin planning either the update of existing landscaping or the development of totally new landscaping. Are you dreaming about the new growing season will soon be getting under way?

It’s the time of year when gardeners are itching to get outside, but too early to actually start planting. There are still a lot of things that can be done to prepare your garden for spring so that you can get out in the yard during the nice days.

Suggestion: If you leave your faded plants until temperatures warm in the spring, native Bees and Butterflies can survive the winter and emerge in spring, when longer days and temperatures warm.

Here’s a to-do list with 10 helpful tasks to get you started!

1.  Pick Up The Trash

This isn’t a very glamorous task, but you will be surprised what has accumulated over the winter! Walk around with a plastic bag and retrieve all the bits of paper and trash that have blown onto your property over the winter.

If you live in a neighborhood like mine, you will also likely need a small spade to pick up after those dog walkers who have neglected to be courteous.

2.  Inspect For Winter Damage

Winter damage to lavender plant

Prune off any broken, dead or storm-damaged branches. Also snip the tips off of any evergreens that have suffered tip diebacks from winter’s cold.

3.  Remove Winter Protection

As the threat of frost wanes, remove burlap barriers, wraps and other protective material from around landscape plants that needed the extra winter protection. Also remove any staking from new trees if they've been in the ground for more than a year.

4.  Prune Bushes And Trees

Spring pruning graphic

Remove dead, dying, damaged, disfigured and diseased wood. You can do this at any time of year. Cut these twigs and branches back to healthy wood — or to the ground. After that, look for branches or twigs that cross and rub on one another. Remove one of them, leaving the healthier or better-placed branch.

If you are tackling a big, overgrown deciduous shrub with lots of stems, remove the oldest stems by cutting them right to the ground. You can cut down about 1/4 of the stems each year to rejuvenate the shrub.

5.  Test Garden Soil

Experts recommend testing your garden soil every 3-5 years to see what nutrients or organic materials it needs and which it has too much of. You might learn, for example, that your soil is very high in phosphorous, so you would avoid adding fertilizers that contain a lot of it. Or you might find out your soil is naturally alkaline, and need to add aluminum sulfate around your evergreens and acid-loving shrubs like hydrangeas. Detailed instructions on how to collect and submit your soil sample is available on your Wisconsin's Extension Service website.

6.  Fertilize

A Bag of Fertilizer

Once you know what your garden soil needs based on your test results, talk with someone at your local garden center about which specific products to use, always following package instructions for best results.

A good general practice is to top-dress the soil with an inch or two of compost, humus and/or manure in early spring just before or as your bulbs are starting to emerge. That’s also a good time to sprinkle an organic slow release plant food like Espoma’s Plant-tone or Rose-tone around your perennials and shrubs. Earthworms and other garden creatures will do the job of working these organic materials down into the soil for you.

7.  Divide Perennials And Transplant Shrubs

In early spring when they are just beginning to pop up, divide and transplant any perennials that have outgrown their space or grown large enough to split, if desired. In most cases, it’s best to divide and move perennials in the opposite season of when they bloom. That means moving summer and fall blooming perennials in spring, and spring blooming perennials in fall. This avoids disrupting their bloom cycle.

Evergreen shrubs can be moved in early spring before their new growth appears or in early fall to give them enough time to re-establish their roots before winter. Deciduous shrubs can be moved almost anytime they are not in bloom and the weather is mild, but generally spring and fall are the preferred seasons for transplanting. If you move them while they are dormant, there will be less stress on the plants and they will be more likely to spring back into action quickly.

8.  Put Out Trellises and Stakes

If you’ve brought a trellis into the garage or shed for winter, early spring is a good time to bring it back out into the garden. Make sure it’s sturdy and apply a fresh coat of paint if needed before using it again. If you grow peonies, delphiniums, or any other perennials that require support, set them out now or get them ready to go. Trying to wrangle tender peony stems into a peony ring is tough work once their leaves have unfurled.

9.  Edge Garden Beds

Whether you use a long-handled, people-powered edging tool or power edger, end of winter is a good time to cut sharp edges along all garden beds. This not only neatens the landscape, it creates a “lip” to contain mulch that can be applied once the soil warms consistently for the season.

10. Be Ready For Freezing Temperatures

Garden cloches

If you garden in an area where late spring frosts and freezes are a possibility, be prepared to cover up plants that have tender emerging buds or foliage if freezing temps are in the forecast. If the buds haven’t begun to open yet, there’s no need to cover them.

Old sheets and towels that have been relegated to the rag pile are a good option, and professional row cover is available for purchase, too. DO NOT cover tender plants with plastic sheeting or tarps. The effect of the plastic touching the newly emerging buds and foliage will magnify the cold’s effect, rather than mitigate it.

Further Information:

 Understanding Plant Hardiness Zones
 Soil Basics: Get to Know Your Soil
 Use Eggshells For Your Plants
 How to Use Banana Peels in Your Garden

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