By: Julie Day
Spring is on the way! This year, March 20 marks the Vernal or Spring Equinox, when day and night are the same length. Don’t be fooled by the calendar though. Depending on where you live, freezing weather can persist well past the official start of spring.
As you plan your early spring chores, take a look at your garden soil. When a shovelful of soil crumbles in your hands, the soil is considered “workable.” If it’s still frozen, or soggy enough that a handful mushes into a ball, you should wait before plowing or digging.
Also take note of your last frost date and hardiness zone. As soon as the last frost has passed, you can begin planting summer bulbs and annuals and working outdoors in earnest.
Bare-root roses and shrubs can be planted while dormant.
Trees and Shrubs
- Continue pruning nonflowering trees and shrubs. You can also prune summer and fall flowering trees and shrubs such as crape myrtle and butterfly bush.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as azaleas, camellias, and rhododendrons after they bloom.
- Hold off on pruning birch, maple, and other “bleeding” trees until after the leaves develop.
- Clean up and prune trees and shrubs that have been broken by winter storms, but hold off on pruning frost and cold damage until growth starts, so you can see what’s able to recover.
- Plant bare-root and container-grown trees and shrubs.
- Begin fertilizing trees and shrubs once growth starts.
- Transplant trees and shrubs when the soil is workable, but before they leaf out.
- Prune and fertilize roses.
Remove winter mulch gradually to protect tender new growth.
Perennials and Bulbs
- Cut back overgrown or leggy perennials.
- Cut or mow ornamental grasses, being careful not to cut the short new growth.
- Plant, divide, and transplant perennials and ornamental grasses as soon as the soil is workable.
- Weed bulb beds, being careful not to disturb the bulbs.
- Replant any plants that have been pushed out of the ground by frost heaving.
- Remove any extra winter mulch from perennials gradually after the worst of the freezing weather has passed. Note the hardiness zone of the plant, and remove the mulch once temperatures have warmed to the minimum for that zone.
- Fertilize bulbs after blooming, with a bulb-boosting fertilizer or compost.
- Plant tender bulbs (such as caladium, dahlia, and tuberous begonia) after all danger of frost has passed.
- Prune overgrown vines once they have bloomed.
Violas can survive the frosty temperatures of early spring.
Annuals and Containers
- Unless you have a warm place to store container plants, wait until after the last frost before filling them with summer annuals. In cool spring weather, you can enjoy pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, and violas.
- Be sure to deadhead your plants to promote more blooms.
- Sow seeds for summer blooming annuals indoors. If you started them last month, transplant seedlings into peat pots or other containers to prepare for moving outdoors.
Cool-season grasses will begin growing in early spring.
- Cool-season grasses (such as fescue and bluegrass) begin growing in earnest as spring arrives. If needed, feed lightly with a balanced fertilizer. Aerate and dethatch cool-season lawns only if absolutely necessary; otherwise be gentle – since lawns are delicate in spring.
- Bermuda lawns may benefit from a “scalping” to remove the tall brown stubble of winter. Scalping is not necessary but can make the grass softer and easier to mow in summer. Gradually lower your mower blade to a final mowing of about 1”, and remove the clippings. Do not scalp other types of grass.
- Apply pre-emergent herbicide or corn gluten to prevent crabgrass and other annual weeds.
- Spring is a good time to add soil to low areas and to patch bare spots in cool-season lawns. Heavy seed planting is most successful in the fall.
- Avoid walking on spongy, wet soil.
- Test your soil pH and add lime (if acidic) or sulfur (if alkaline), following package instructions.
- Resume your warm weather watering schedule as soon as grass begins to grow.
Plan to add some herbs to your perennial garden this year.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs
- Plant fruit trees.
- Plow and work your garden as soon as the soil is dry and crumbly. Work in a nice layer of compost or other organic matter.
- Plant and enjoy cool-season leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and other greens.
- Plant bare-root perennial vegetables and fruits, such as asparagus, rhubarb, grapes, and berries.
- Begin planting cool-weather vegetables such as carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, peas, and potatoes.
- Start seeds indoors for summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and corn.
- Rejuvenate your herb garden – trim back leggy plants and add new perennial herbs such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, and mint.
- Plant annual herb seeds, such as basil and cilantro, indoors to transplant to the garden after the last frost.
- Plant tomatoes and other warm-weather vegetables in containers that can be brought indoors during cold temperatures.
Houseplants can be repotted in the spring.
- Pinch back spindly plants, and root the cuttings.
- Repot houseplants that are pot-bound.
- Inspect for insects and diseases, such as spider mites and scale. Address problems as soon as you spot them.
- As soon as your houseplants begin to grow, you can begin a schedule of fertilizing and resume a regular watering schedule.
- Gently wipe or spray houseplants to remove winter dust. For fuzzy-leaved plants like African violets, gently brush clean with a soft, dry cloth.
- Increase watering of cacti in preparation for blooming.
Get ready for nesting birds!
Cleanup and Maintenance
- Start or add to your compost pile using the debris from spring clean-up.
- Scrub garden fountains with water or a mild vinegar solution, and refill with fresh water.
- Clean out, inspect, and repair birdhouses for the spring nesting season.
- Continue feeding the birds and watch for the arrival of hummingbirds.
- Repair and paint fences, trellises, arbors, and garden furniture.
- Install drip irrigation and sprinklers, to prepare for summer watering.
- Observe your lawn and garden during the spring thaw and rains and address any drainage problems.
- Start a garden journal to keep track of weather patterns, bloom times, sunlight, and plant growth.