Clean up Your Garden for Spring

Author:Denise Perreault

Spring is the time of year when the ground shifts into gear for growing throughout the summer. Whether you have established growing areas for flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees, or you are creating new growing areas, you will have tasks to do to prepare for the upcoming growing season. Standard spring gardening work involves soil preparation, weeding, and mulching to get growing areas ready for plants. Some plants will return year after year, known as perennials. Gardeners must work in growing areas to prepare for perennial plants to grow again. Other plants need to be planted every year because they only grow for a single season. Regardless of the type of growing area, outdoor spring cleaning will make sure the soil is ready for healthy and vibrant plants.

Soil preparation is one of the first jobs to tackle in the spring. If growing areas had mulch on them for winter protection, remove it to expose the soil once again. To ensure healthy plants, the soil must be rich with organic matter. Garden soil with organic matter or compost worked into it will have a beneficial structure that allows air and water to penetrate down to plant roots. Rich soil also retains moisture well to help plants stay hydrated. Wait until the soil has dried sufficiently before tilling. The soil will be ready for tilling when you can take a handful of soil, squeeze it, and it then shake it lightly. If the soil falls apart with light shaking, it is ready to till. If the soil remains compacted in your hand, wait a few more days and test it again. Till the soil to break up large clumps and even it out. As you work the soil, remove any old plants and weeds you find. The final step in soil preparation involves adding compost to the soil. Spread a 4-inch layer of compost over the soil, and work it in well with a garden fork or rototiller.

Another aspect of spring cleaning in the yard involves pruning and trimming trees and shrubs. Most trees and shrubs respond positively to pruning performed in the late winter or early spring. For the best results, perform this pruning before any new growth appears. Pruning involves removing growth from plants to encourage healthy growing and attractive shape. The first step in pruning a tree or shrub involves cutting away any unhealthy or dead growth. Cut these branches back to the point they originate or to the point of healthy growth. Next, assess the tree or shrub to determine its natural shape. Cut away branches to help the tree or shrub maintain this shape.

Choose any new plants you wish to add to growing areas. When choosing new plants, consider overnight temperature lows and wait to put plants into the ground until all chance of frost passes. This can be especially true for sensitive vegetable plants, such as tomatoes and peppers. Some annual flowers, such as impatiens, are also sensitive to cold temperatures. Add fresh mulch around plants to help control weeds and to conserve soil moisture.

After planting new plants and allowing perennial plants to reestablish themselves in the garden, it may be necessary to stake some plants to support them. Tomato plants benefit from wire cages around them or staking the plants to poles for support. Some perennial flowers also benefit from staking. Perennials with heavy blossoms or multiple stems of blossoms, such as peonies, cone flowers, and daisies, might need the extra support of stakes. As soon as the plants emerge from the soil in the spring, insert stakes to provide support. As the plants grow larger throughout the growing season, attach the stalks to the stakes with string. Some gardeners even cut up old pantyhose to use for attaching plants to stakes.

Some of these tasks can even be performed in the fall when removing plants at the end of the growing season. Full renovation of growing areas in the fall is a beneficial task. Fall cleanup helps prevent microbes and bacteria from overwintering in the soil. With attention to outdoor fall and spring cleaning tasks, plants should stay healthier, and they should grow with more energy.