As important as plants can be, they can’t do all the work for you. A great garden still requires a lot of preparation & maintenance to develop. Here is a quick checklist of 8 steps to take when planting in the spring.
1. Get Your Shed In Order
Make an inventory of your garden tools. Sharpen blades, oil hinges, and think about expanding or upgrading your collection.
Use a mill file to sharpen blades, then add penetrating oil to remove and prevent corrosion. You would be surprised how much easier it is to dig or cut with the right tools – they make spring cleanup a breeze!
It’s also a good idea to get more of the essential supplies. Make sure you have enough fertilizer, soil amendments, healthy garden soil on hand. You should also get some plant supports and pre-assemble any structures you want to make like tomato cages or prepare a garden bed.
It’s a lot easier to do work in your shed while the weather is still icky than to wake up one morning and realize that you were supposed to do that work weeks ago because it’s perfect weather outside.
2. Clear Out Weeds, Mulch, And Debris
To start planting a new thriving garden, make a blank area by removing anything in your way. Decide what to plant and then put it there.
Put dead plants or food scraps on the compost pile so they can break down & become soil for other plants to grow in. Well-composed mulch doesn’t need to be raked away, but fresh ones do.
Your main concern is any weeds or an unwanted perennial plant that might still be alive. Make sure you get rid of them, either by burning or placing them in a layer of compost.
If they should respawn before the seeds can germinate, make sure to put them back in the middle of your planter for further roasting.
As soon as you see any live weeds, make sure to get rid of them before they come back and start competing with your garden plants.
Many flowering shrubs and trees can use a bit of pruning now that we’re heading into the warmer months. Late winter/early spring is an exciting time to trim back old branches because you can see their structure well and shape them before they start to break dormancy.
Additionally, pruning now means less energy spent on overhead. You might want to prune some plants at this time of year.
These are some examples: Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Cornus Canadensis (Flowering Dogwood) Lonicera (Honeysuckle), Hydrangea paniculata, Cercis (Redbud), summer-blooming Spirea, Lagerstroemia.
Pruning and shaping woody ornamentals at the beginning of spring is the ideal time because it helps in bringing in more light and air into the space.
While it’s tempting to keep your scissors in the office, there’s actually a way better way to do all your cutting. You can clean your gardening tools with some alcohol on a clean rag before each blade goes into a new plant. You probably don’t want to go under surgery with a dirty blade, do you?
Secondly, there are many plants that you should leave alone for now because they bloom when they have old wood. Spring-blooming flowers such as Forsythia, Hydrangea macrophylla, Kalmia, and Weigela should be pruned after they have finished flowering. A variety of plants and flowers that bloom in the spring include Camellia, Rhododendron, Spirea, and Azalea.
Whenever you trim plants, it’s good practice to add some fertilizer (green manure), or organic soil amendments to the soil. This’ll ensure that the plant has fertile soil and has everything on hand to heal its wounds as quickly as possible.
4. Prepare The Soil
Once it stops snowing and the ground is workable, start preparing your garden beds. In winter, the soil tends to become compacted, which is why it’s important to loosen things up again by tilling or turning.
To prepare the ground, use a garden fork and sharp spade or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12-14 inches. Dig in any soil with compost that is thoroughly decomposed but if it’s fresh, try removing the plant debris first.
Next, add some compost or other amendments. You can get a soil test that will show you the pH and nutrient levels in your soil. This will help you decide what you need to add as materials to create a healthy, thriving garden. You should add compost if your soil is clay-based or poor.
The best way to do it is to dig a trench, add an inch of compost, and then mix it in by turning the soil with a spade or shovel. Now fill in the trench, water the spot lightly to release any air bubbles that are trapped in the new layer of soil moist.
If the soil in your yard is kinda crappy, you can just elevate a garden bed to prevent it from being saturated with slugs and worms.
5. Set Up New Planters And Garden Beds
It is easy to get excited by the beautiful new varieties you come across in catalogs and end up ordering more plants than you have places to put them!
Now is the time of year to build garden beds, install shepherd’s hooks or window boxes, and order new pots to ensure that you have enough of a venue to showcase all your gorgeous new plants.
6. Divide Perennials Like Daylilies
Propagating perennials like daylilies, Shasta daisies, hostas, and many others will help them thrive even more year after year. Cutting them back in spring while they’re dormant is a great way and perfect time to get ahead of the game. Before taking off for the season, make sure to give your crops enough room by following these simple steps:
- Gently scoop away the top layer of dirt around the base instead of trying to pull it out or cut it off with a shovel; this way we don’t damage the roots and will leave the clump intact.
- You can lift the rootball out of the ground by pushing a shovel under it and lifting it up.
- Try to pull the roots apart by hand, then cut any clumps that are tangled with a knife. This can be difficult in some places and sometimes hand tools won’t work as well as they do in others.
- Why not space new divisions over a larger area and then re-plant immediately? This will improve the bloom show of your perennial plants- it’s cheap and easy, too!
Note: If your clump of perennials is too big to extract from the ground, you may need to divide it while the plants are still there. Here’s how: insert two gardening forks back-to-back in the middle of the clump and carefully pull them apart, then lift up on them and repeat this process around.
7. Early Planting
Get the first waves of planting out of the way. Plenty of plants can be started indoors this time of year and planted out in spring, especially hardy vegetables (onions, potatoes, artichokes, and some lettuces) which are ready to go now.
Bulbs and perennials are usually super easy to plant. Dig a hole, drop the bulb in and make sure the bottom of the root ball is flush with the top of the soil.
If you’re transplanting a Tree or Shrub, take the time to dig a hole plenty big and make sure it’s deep enough for the roots. Put some amended soil in there for them to rest on and take care of the plant at least every few weeks.
But before you water in, create a ring of soil around the plant a bit wider than the original hole. This ring will act as a berm while you water the plant in, allowing you to really get the deep saturation necessary without turning the whole area inside out.
8. Apply Mulch
The best way to deal with weeds is to apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil. Mulch will repel weeds much better if you put it down at the beginning before they grow.
You might still be waiting to plant in lots of areas, or you might have seeds germinating that you don’t want to bury in mulch.
Fortunately, there are ways you can avoid weed conflict if you start your seedlings indoors, work around established plants, or buy well-established plants from a nursery. You don’t need to wait too long before mulching the area though- the weeds will end up taking over.
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