Rules for Planting the Perfect Spring Garden

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Rules for Planting the Perfect Spring Garden

8 Simple Rules for Planting the Perfect Spring Garden

As important as the right plants are, they can’t do ALL the work for you. A great garden still requires a lot of preparation and maintenance to develop. Before you begin planting in the spring, here is a checklist of the 8 steps you should take to prepare your garden for a successful season:

gardening tools in spring yardgardening tools in spring yard

1. Get Your Shed In Order

Go over your tools. Sharpen blades, oil hinges, and think about expanding or upgrading your collection. Use a mill file to sharpen blades, then add penetrating oil to remove and prevent corrosion. You would be surprised how much easier it is to dig or cut with a sharp, well-oiled implement; the right tools will make the whole season much easier!

You should also take this opportunity to replenish your supplies. Make sure you have enough fertilizer and soil amendments on hand. Replenish your supply of plant supports, and pre-assemble any structures like tomato cages that you want to make for yourself. It is a lot easier to do get this work done in your shed while the weather is still icky than to have to worry about it later in spring when there is plenty of things you would rather be doing outside.

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2. Clear Out Weeds, Mulch, and Debris

Do a spring cleaning of the area, removing anything in  the way until you are back to the bare soil. Dead organic matter can go on the  compost pile to break down. Well-composted mulch or organic matter can stay  right where it is to be incorporated into the soil, but “fresh” mulch needs to  be raked away to expose the soil.

Your main concern is any weeds that might still be alive.  These must be removed from the soil and either burned or placed in the middle of a working compost pile where the heat will kill it before any seeds can  germinate.  You don’t want to leave any  living weeds around, or they might come back and try to compete with your  garden plants!

3. Prune

Many trees or shrubs can use a good pruning this time of year, especially those that  bloom on new wood. Late winter/early spring is the perfect time to prune back old wood because you can see the branch structure well and you can shape the plant before the buds break dormancy and the plant starts investing energy in its branches. Some of the plants you want to prune at this time of year are: buddleia (butterfly bush), cornus canadensis (flowering dogwood), lonicera (honeysuckle), hydrangea paniculata, cercis (redbud), summer-blooming spirea, lagerstroemia (crepe myrtle), rose, and wisteria. Early spring is also the perfect time to prune and shape woody ornamentals.

Before you go snip-happy, though, there are a couple of things to consider. First you should use a clean rag and some isopropyl alcohol to sterilize your pruners before each cut. This precaution keeps you from  inadvertently spreading plant disease all around the garden. You wouldn't want a surgeon cutting into you  without sterilizing the blade first, would you? Secondly, there are many plants  that you should NOT prune at this time of year because they bloom on old wood. Plants that you should wait until after the bloom season to prune include: spring-blooming Spirea, Camellia, Rhododendron (including Azalea), Forsythia, Hydrangea Macrophylla (Bigleaf), Syringa (Lilac), Magnolia, Kalmia (Mountain Laurel), and Weigela.

Whenever you prune your plants, it is a good practice to add  a little fertilizer to the soil to ensure that the plant has the nutrients on hand to heal its wounds quickly.

4. Prepare the Soil

Once the frost has lifted and the soil is workable, start preparing your garden  beds. In winter, soil tends to become compacted, so the first thing you want to  do is loosen it back up by tilling or turning it. Using a tiller or a sharp  spade, work the soil to a depth of 12 to 14 inches to loosen it up. Any mulch  or leaf litter that is well-composted should be mixed right in, but if it is  too fresh, you should remove it first.

Next add compost and amendments. You can use a soil test to  see where you pH and nutrient levels are, which will tell you what type of  materials you might want to add. If you have poor or clay-based soil, it is  especially important to add a healthy layer of compost to improve the soil’s  texture, nutrient content, and moisture-retention. Then rake the soil level and  water it lightly to help it settle and release air pockets.

If your existing soil is particularly poor, the easiest  option might just be to rise above it with a raised garden bed.

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5. Set Up New Planters and Garden Beds

It is easy to get excited by the beautiful new  varieties you come across in catalogs and end up ordering more plants than you  have places to put them! Now is the time of year to build garden beds, install  shepherds hooks or window boxes, and order new pots to ensure that you have  enough of a venue to showcase all your gorgeous new plants.

6. Divide Perennials

Some perennials tend to crowd each other out, causing their  performance to deteriorate year over year. Daylilies, Shasta Daisies, Hostas,  and many others all benefit from being divided in early spring. Before the  growing season takes off, give these plants room to spread out by following  these simple steps:

1. Dig out around the perimeter of the clump, giving a wide  berth so as not to damage the roots.

2. Dig under the plant root ball and lift  it out of the ground.

3. Try to disentangle the roots by hand and pull apart  the distinct root stocks/tubers. In some places it will be necessary to cut the  clump apart with a knife.

4. Evenly space the new divisions over a larger area  and re-plant them immediately. This will improve the bloom show of these  perennials, and it is a cheap and easy way to propagate a larger collection!

Note: If your clump of perennials is too large to pull out  of the ground, you may have to divide them while they are still in the ground  by inserting two garden forks back-to-back into the middle of the clump and  carefully pushing them apart, then lifting out the divisions for re-planting.

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7. Early Planting

Get the first wave of planting done.  Many plants can be started indoors this time of year for planting out in  spring, and particularly hardy vegetables (onions, potatoes, artichokes, and  some lettuces) are ready to be planted now. Look at the plant information for  whatever you intend to plant.

Bulbs and Perennials tend to be straightforward to  plant—it’s really just dig, drop, done! Dig the hole at the proper depth and  spacing, add any soil amendments necessary, add the bulb/root ball and be sure  that the crown is right at soil level, then fill in the hole and water  thoroughly.

With Trees and Shrubs, here is a tip to help those roots  settle in to their new home: the moat method. Again you should dig a hole  plenty large and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots, and add a cone  of amended soil for the roots to rest on, then fill in the hole with more  amended soil. But before you water in, create a ring of soil around the plant a  bit wider than the original hole. This ring will act like a berm while you  water the plant in, allowing you to really get the deep saturation necessary  without turning the whole area into a mud pit.

See the diagram for details.

moat method for planting treesmoat method for planting trees
planting diagram

8. Apply Mulch

Last but not least, apply a thick layer of  mulch wherever you can. Mulch is much more effective at keeping weeds from  becoming established if you can get it in place before the weeds start  sprouting. You might still be waiting to plant out in lots of areas, or you  might have seeds germinating that you don’t want to bury in mulch. You can  avoid a lot of this conflict if you have already started your seedlings  indoors, if you are working around established plants, or if you buy  well-established plants in the nursery. Just don’t wait too long to mulch an  area, or the weeds will beat you there!