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Early-Spring Garden To-Do List

It’s Time to Clean, Prune, Test and Plant


by Jill-Ann Ouellette


Does your yard look pretty messy from winter—like mine does? It’s time to get out there and start cleaning it up! You don’t want to get rid of all the leaves just yet—there are still insects and bees slumbering, and they will be until spring is fully here. But you can rake them from your lawn. In your beds you can gently rake the top layer.


Pruning— Get rid of any dead wood you see around your shrubs. If you didn’t hit your raspberry canes yet, this is your last chance to clear out the dead wood. Blueberries are ready to get a good structural pruning, too. Give your large shrubs and small trees a final pruning. We’re at the tail end of when it’s still healthy to do so. For trees, remove branches aimed inward, or those that cross another branch. Airflow is essential. The same is true for your shrubs. If your hydrangeas and lilacs have become woody, now is the time to clear them up by removing interior branches—those that aim inward or cross other branches, or are too close to the house.


Clean up your water features like ponds and bubblers. They might have algae or too much nitrogen from dead leaves in them. Consider mosquito control to prevent a problem later this summer.


Empty your bird boxes—birds don’t like a used space. Do a deep clean of all your bird feeders so you’re not spreading disease among the local bird population.


For your lawn, consider aerating it with a rented or borrowed aerator. Then fertilize the lawn, and as soon as it’s warm enough, overseed it. For grass seed, you need 50-degree ground temps; for clovers, you need at least 40 degrees.


Garden Beds— Now that your irises and other tubers should be sending up small shoots, you can see precisely where they are and, if necessary, thin them out. Tubers are hard to kill. You can dig them up and break them apart, or take a spade to them, and they will still grow. You should never need to buy more irises. You can even share them with neighbors and other gardeners.


There are lots of ways you can get garden beds ready for spring. First, clean up the beds. Chop all your dead crops down but leave the roots in place. Cleaning up the top of beds, whether that’s leaves or branches, will mean less food for slugs and snails. This is when you’re most likely to catch them before they repopulate.


Naturally, pull up your weeds before they multiply, no matter how small they are. You don’t have to till up your entire bed—in fact, many people believe doing so brings weed seeds to the surface. You can use a broad fork to break up the soil just enough to allow your plants to grow healthy roots without destroying the structures that have been established in the soil already.


Testing— If you’ve never tested your soil, start this year! Talk to your local nursery, extension office, or farm store about testing. It’s simple—you collect a little dirt, send it off, and they’ll let you know what your soil composition is. Then you’ll know how to amend the soil for whatever you’re planting. Realistically, the most effective thing you can do in your garden is having healthy soil.


Once your garden beds are clean and ready, consider two more tasks. Mulch is great for stopping weeds; it also protects plant roots by keeping them moist and insulated from the weather. And you could add row covers, which will help you get an early start on the growing season.


If you have established roses, it’s pruning time. If you don’t, it is now rose planting season. Bareroot roses are hitting nurseries now. Pay attention to the nursery instructions for planting these. These frilly friends need fertilizer, good planting-hole prep, and to be planted correctly in order to thrive.


Most importantly, get outdoors and get your hands dirty! It will improve your health and your disposition after this strange winter we’ve had!


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