Winter doesn’t seem to want to let go in large parts of the country but despite what you’re seeing outside, this is the best time to start gearing up for gardening season. Get a jump on spring planning, projects and chores with our suggestions to get your landscape ready for the growing season.
Improve your outdoor room(s). Take the down time now to figure out what would enhance your outdoor living spaces for you and your family or guests. A pergola and patio? An outdoor kitchen? Extended landscaping? Map out a plan then, decide if you need professional assistance to make your dreams a reality. Stretch your DIY skills by all means, but if you think you might need an expert, now’s the time to get bids and book the pros.
Examine your gardening and lawn-care tools and equipment. Is it time to schedule service for outdoor power tools? Get that done before small engine retailers get too busy. Would an leaf-blower or edger help you get jobs done more efficiently? Home improvement stores stock their lawn equipment early in the spring so now may be the time to shop for enticing deals and best selection.
Check garden tools such as shovels, loppers and pruners that may need sharpening or cleaning.
Tighten handles, look for damage and replace worn items. Buy a patterned pair of garden gloves that get you in the mood. Early spring is a good time to take care of these tasks so you will be ready to roll when the weather beckons you outside.
If summer stress, pet predations, insects or disease took out some of your plants, plan your replacement options. Select the right plants, trees and shrubs for your climate zone. You’ll have more luck long-term, it’s critical for keeping maintenance to a minimum and for maximizing benefits to the environment and ecosystem. If you’re fairly new to gardening or just looking for some ideas, check out BHG’s plant encyclopedia.
Once you get outdoors and start examining your growing plants, you may see the need to cut back some of your perennials. Herbaceous perennials are those that have dead, above-ground stems and leaves. Generally, the plants themselves will show you where to cut. New foliage will be mounding at the base so, using pruners, remove all the dead brown stems you see around and inside that mound by cutting them at ground level.
Evergreen perennials don’t need to be cut back as severly as their herbaceous cousins. Using your pruners, snip back any winterkill on stem tips and foliage to leave a nicely rounded plant. You may want to wait to cut them back until you see new growth on old stems. This will help you determine where any winter damage begins.
In general, you should prune deciduous shrubs and trees before leaf or flower buds begin to swell.
Using pruners (or loppers for anything thicker than a pencil), remove small twigs growing on the inside along the main stems or any that shoot off in an unwanted direction. Cut out crossed branches that may rub each other. Cut off dead and winter-damaged tips. Remove up to a quarter of the smaller branches to leave room for new summer growth.
Double-check a plant encyclopedia if you’re unsure about flowering trees and shrubs. Some varieties bloom on old wood so you don’t want to remove all your blooming stems.
If you left your ornamental grasses to provide some structure in your winter garden, this is the time to cut them back before new growth gets too far along. Leave some stubble: about 4 inches for tall grasses and 2 inches for smaller plants. If cool season grasses remain evergreen in your area, don’t cut them back. Instead, pull out the dead leaves, clip off dead leaf tips and remove seed head stalks down to the ground if you can.
As new growth emerges, you may notice that the plant has a ring of new foliage around a dead center. In that case, it’s time to divide the grass to reinvigorate the plant. Get a stout shovel and dig up the entire grass clump. Use the shovel to divide the unearthed clump into quarters. Discard the dead area from the center. Work some compost into the soil and replant one quarter of the growing stems in the original spot and find new places in your garden for the other three or pass them along to a fellow gardener.
Mow a wildflower meadow in mid-spring. Cut it back to about 4 inches in height. Mowing is essential to reduce weed competition and help the soil to warm up by exposing it to the sun’s rays.
Pull common weeds in early to mid-spring before they grow and set seed.
When the flowers on your spring blooming bulbs are finished, resist the temptation to cut back the remaining foliage. Bulbs need their green leaves to photosynthesize and nourish the below-ground bulb for next year’s display. Allow the foliage to turn yellow. Then, cut the leaves off at ground level. To camouflage fading foliage, interplant your bulbs with perennials that come into their own just as bulbs begin to lose their luster. And if bulb flowering was a bit disappointing this year take a photo or mark where they are in the garden so that come October you can lift the bulbs and replant after enriching the soil and spacing them out.
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