It’s spring! How do you get the outdoor garden ready? We’re going to gently get started, careful not to wake up those overwintering beneficial insects if it’s still too cool or wet. Here are my early spring gardening tasks and tips.
I spent the end of February in the Texas Hill Country where the gardens are at least three months ahead of mine in New Hampshire. The redbuds, irises, and poppies were in bloom and the famous bluebonnets were popping up here and there.
A Redbud in full bloom with yellow irises. The grass even needs mowing!
Tender vegetable plants were available at the garden centers and grocery stores.
Arnosky’s Blue Barn in Blanco is a favorite place with the locals for plants and cut flowers.
Gardening in Texas is quite a different experience from gardening in New England. Gardeners in Texas can grow cold-hardy crops all winter long and need to get the warm weather plants up and growing before the deadly hot weather sets in. While most of the country loves summer, they worry about long heat waves and drought.
Hardy crops like lettuce, kale, beets, and carrots have been growing over the winter in the San Marcos Community Garden.
After wearing T-shirts and flip-flops in Texas, I came home to patches of snow.
Stones act as a heat sink, warming the soil around the daffodils.
Needless to say it was hard to come home to a frozen garden. I had to stop myself from jumping in to clean up too early.
Valiant daffodils are determined to come up.
Early Spring Gardening Chores
If you live in an area of the country that is closer to New Hampshire than it is to Texas, here are some early spring chores you may need start working on:
Don’t be too eager! If your garden is like a soupy mud pie let it dry out some more before you even think about stepping foot in it. Soggy soil is easily compacted. If you absolutely must get in there, use stepping stones or put down boards to walk on. See when soil is ready for planting.
Gently press frost-heaved plants back into the ground.
Delay clean up until overwintering beneficial insects wake up. Wait until you’ve had several days of 50 degree or higher temperatures to give them a chance of survival.
The first thing I do is pick up sticks. There are always loads of sticks and branches that have fallen over the winter. It is a good first step before raking and gives you a chance to assess how things have overwintered while you walk around gathering fallen branches.
Gently rake the early bloomers first so they can poke up out of the soil without having to lift leaves and debris too.
Clip off old tattered leaves of hellebores and epimediums, perennials that bloom with the first breath of spring.
Give ornamental grasses their annual haircut before new growth begins. Leave 8-12 inches of old stubble standing above the crown to keep spring rains from flattening soft new growth and to preserve this year’s growing tips.
Wait until after spring blooming shrubs blossom to prune them. Instead, finish up pruning broken branches. See the Almanac’s When to Prune What Guide.
This is a good time to remove dead rose canes.
Rake, rake, rake, especially where bulbs, daylilies, and peonies are planted to avoid snapping off brittle new shoots.
Peony tips are very brittle when they first emerge. Take care when cleaning up around them.
Before the buds open up and leaves emerge, dig up and move or divide overgrown perennials. It will be less stressful for them.
Take time to remove any weeds as they pop up. They are much easier to deal with now.
Violets may be pretty in bloom but they are a terrible weed in my garden. It’s easy to pull them out now, and very difficult to wait until later.
If you haven’t tested your soil in a while, now is a good time to take a sample and send it off to be tested. You will receive guidelines for the proper amendments to add. See my tips on how to take a soil test.
Ready to plant vegetables? Before planting, check the soil temperature. Peas need at least 45 degree soil to germinate. Or look to nature and wait until the forsythia blooms to plant them. Other vegetables that can be planted early include beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuce, and chard. See the Almanac’s best planting dates by zip code.
Pot up begonia tubers and other summer flowering bulbs to give them a head start.
If the kids are home, enlist their aid in the garden. It will give them some fresh air and exercise and can serve as an outdoor classroom. I’ll have more on gardening with children in a future post.