It’s finally that time of year! Spring is almost here! It’s time to prepare your garden for another growing season.
Hopefully, through the winter you’ve been staying on top of things like deadheading and pruning that way you have a head start on cleanup tasks, but if you haven’t now is the time to start!
Remove old flower heads from perennial plants, living weeds, damaged branches, and older mulch and grass clippings. Most of these things can be placed in a compost heap to become incorporated into the soil. If it is already well-composted in place you can use organic matter to work into the soil and increase nutrient levels. You want to expose the soil so you can prepare it for flowers and other plants.
At this point you can add an organic fertilizer along with the older mulch, working the soil until it’s all mixed in. This will ready the garden bed for spring planting, and giving it the nutrients it needs to support your flowers and vegetables. This will also help to loosen up the soil which is important after being compacted all winter long. While you’re digging up the soil, it’s the perfect time to perform a soil test to see what your pH levels are and whether or not you need to make adjustments. Your local cooperative extension can help with this.
If you’re going to be using raised bed planters early spring is a good time to purchase soil specifically formulated for raised beds. While it may be too early to plant most crops, being prepared for warmer weather never hurts. If you decide to plant cool weather crops like lettuce, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts, be sure to cover crops with a frost protectant on nights that may still be extremely cold.
Finally, once you’ve gotten your beds prepared and your garden ready for next month’s planting you can spend some time dividing up perennials—like bearded iris, hostas, and daylilies. These perennials can often begin to crowd each other out over time, causing their blooms to get smaller and more sparse as time goes on. By splitting them you give them more room to grow. The most important thing to remember with splitting plants is that your garden tools must be sterilized with alcohol first. You can spread disease and pests from one plant to another if you don’t keep your tools clean.
Summer pruning of fruit trees is done both to increase next year’s crop and improve this year’s harvest. Most of the time pruning is done in winter when a tree is dormant, so pruning during the growing season may seem counterintuitive, but there are a few reasons to prune during this time of year.
Apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and cherries benefit the most from summer pruning.
Pruning fruit trees in summer controls undesirable growth and water sprouts. By trimming these off and pruning your tree you allow the fruit tree to put more energy into producing fruit than it does into producing branches.
Some stone fruits (apricots, peaches, and cherries) grow quickly, so after harvest, you should cut back about 50% of their new growth.
If you have young fruit trees, be careful to only prune a little bit at a time. The leaves you’re cutting off are your tree’s energy factory and they need them to grow strong. When you do prune, use that opportunity to shape the tree so that you can reach the fruit for eventual harvest. Dwarf fruit trees (which are most of the trees you’ll find in your local garden center) can be trained to grow into a number of shapes.
Finally, pruning your fruit trees allows more light to reach the fruits and will give them more air circulation. This can help deter pests and disease and make larger, sweeter fruit that is easy to reach.
During this time of year, it may seem as though spring and summer will never arrive. While it’s definitely not the growing season there are still plenty of garden chores to keep you busy through these winter months.
Though you’ve probably already completed your fall cleanup, it’s important to keep any new leaves from staying on the grass for too long. These leaves can smother the grass and make your lawn care work come spring a lot more difficult. Rake them up and use them as mulch for perennials and bulb planting beds, or put them in with your compost for next year’s garden beds. Your vegetables will thank you.
During the winter most plants and trees are dormant, meaning they’re not actively growing, so it can be a great time to trim your trees and shrubs. This is known as dormant pruning and is actually healthier for your trees and shrubs than pruning during their actively growing stage. You’ll be at less risk for spreading diseases and fewer bugs will be around to attack the wound on the plant.
Keep your eye on evergreen shrubs and if they need it, tie and support them to keep them from breaking in the snow. If you find them bending too much during the early snow that’s a sign that the tree can use a little more support.
Using burlap can help you by providing a windbreak for sensitive hedges, but it can also protect shrubs from deer who get more and more likely to feed in residential areas as the winter wears on.
Finally, if you feed the birds during the summer it’s very important that you keep your feeders full during the winter. Birds become dependent on human-provided food sources over time and having them suddenly disappear can be hard on them during the cold winter months.
Taking care of these winter yard work chores a little bit at a time on the weekends can help make the winter hours pass until you can get back to your more traditional gardening tasks once more.