Spring has finally arrived, and it’s time to get out into the garden and make sure that the plants and flowers look their best. Though a lot of the work that goes into having a beautiful spring garden actually happens during the winter, there are still things for a gardener to do now that the sunlight is lingering and the air is warming up. Here are seven tips to help your spring garden grow:
Prune Shrubs and Trees
Some shrubs and trees are pruned right after they flower, but others are best pruned in the early spring. These include flowering abelias, rose of Sharon, roses, hydrangeas, crepe myrtles, oleanders and sourwoods. Every tree or shrub should have dead, diseased or damaged branches snipped off. To shape a shrub or tree, cut it just above a bud at a 45 degree angle. Cuts that are too sharp or too close to the bud invite rot. To thin out a tree, put the blade of the loppers or the secateurs around the branch with the larger cutting edge against the parent stem. Cut up from the bottom to protect against a ragged cut.
Evergreen shrubs are notorious for not liking to be cut back, but if one of my evergreens is straggly, I certainly will cut it back. This stimulates the plant to grow new branches from the base.
Check the Soil
It is always a good idea to check the soil before planting, especially if that area of the garden hasn’t been used. I check to see how well the soil drains, first. Most plants and flowers really can’t tolerate wet feet, so it’s important that the soil drains well. There are plants that don’t mind soil being a bit soggy, and these are plants to consider for a place where a foot deep puddle of water doesn’t disappear within an hour. These plants include Boltonia, summer-sweet, mallow, sweet spire and some varieties of phlox.
Another characteristic of the soil to check is its pH. Some plants thrive in soil that’s a bit acidic, such as azaleas, while others like the soil alkaline. One easy way to check the pH is to send it to the local cooperative extension and have it tested. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, amendments can be added to get it to the right pH. These amendments can be easily found at the local garden store.
Sharpen the Tools
This job is best done in winter before the tools are really needed, but I too have delayed and have to take an afternoon to make sure the rakes and hoes and shovels I bought from my favorite garden center are up to snuff. Blades need to be cleaned, sharpened and given a coat of light oil to keep them rust-free. I admit that I’m a bit scared of my gas-powered lawn mower, so I have someone come over from the outdoor garden center and take care of it. This means balancing and sharpening the blades, changing the spark plug, draining the oil and refilling the tank with gas.
Add a Raised Bed or Two
The materials for raised beds can be found at the garden store or even a big box store with an outdoor garden center. You can build the bed yourself to your own specifications, or buy a kit and put it together. The advantages of a raised bed is that the gardener can control the type of soil that goes into it. Remember that a raised bed will be a permanent part of the garden, so choose its dimensions wisely, and build it to last.
Sow Hardy Annuals and Cool Weather Vegetables
I usually take the chance, and sow the seeds of hardy annuals a bit before the last frost date. These are plants that only last a year but tend to put forth spectacular blooms in the garden. Hardy annuals include poppies (my garden center sells a gorgeous blue poppy), hollyhocks, larkspur and stocks. Cool weather vegetables include kale, spinach and lettuce. I sow seeds of warm weather vegetables and tender annuals inside, and put them out after the last frost date.
Divide Herbaceous Perennials
This is the time to lift and divide such perennials as Solomon’s seal, smartweed, hosta lilies and globe thistle. With some perennials you should only do this after they’ve been established and are showing their age. It’s fun to give the divisions to neighbors who have admired the flowers from afar.
Restart the Compost Bin
Gardening experts say you shouldn’t keep adding to a compost pile once the scraps have been broken down, but use it until it is used up. Since my compost pile was used up long ago, I start another. Instead of one of those ridiculously expensive rotating barrels I have a cylinder made of turkey wire in a corner of the garden. I just toss in some kitchen scraps, old newspaper and other organic, plant-based items that are easy to break down, add a handful of bacterial activator and water the whole thing until it is damp but not soaking wet. I turn it every few days with the garden fork and in about two weeks I’ll have serviceable compost.
By the way, spring is the time to add mulch, manure and compost to your garden borders.
Other things to think of are securing your climbers and vines against the spring winds by tying them to the trellis or arbor. Fruit trees are blossoming about now, and if I hear that the night is going to be chilly, I cover mine up with horticultural fleece, that muslin-like stuff you can buy at your garden store. Seedlings, even those of hardy plants, also benefit from being covered up on cold nights.