After the cold, dreary months of winter, spring has a habit of jumping out at us, and taking us by surprise. We may be grateful to see her (or him), but we are all too often not ready, and get caught by surprise. To get the best of out what is undoubtedly the best season of the year, especially if you live in colder parts of the country, it pays to be ready. What should gardeners be doing now to make this the best spring ever in your garden, and have everything set to go, so you get the best out of it? Planning ahead is the big secret of gardening success, so let’s look at what we should be planning and doing now, to get the best from spring.
5 Steps to Get Your Garden Ready for the Best Year Ever
- Clean up
- Check your plants for damage and start pruning
- Order new shrubs and trees
- Order seeds and summer bulbs
- Plan something new for this year
Clean Up and Prepare
No matter how well you raked and cleaned the garden last fall, winter always brings more debris. As soon as you can get outside, and most of the snow is gone, rake up any remaining leaves from fall. Although they are often considered mulch, they can also be the over-wintering places for diseases and some pests. If they are properly composted the high temperature will kill most things, but the ones lying under your bushes are best disposed of.
Later, when the soil has warmed, you should replace them with an organic mulch, to feed your plants and conserve water. But if you do this early, while the ground is cold or frozen, you will keep the soil cold longer, slowing down both the development of new shoots, and the microbial action in the soil that releases nutrients.
Once the soil has dried a little, go around with a cultivator and loosen the surface. Not only with this make your beds look terrific, it will remove weeds that have gone through winter, and let air down into the soil, warming it and getting things started sooner.
Winter often causes moss and algae to grow on your paths and other hard surfaces. Rent a power-washer for an afternoon and give them a thorough clean. Use water, not strong detergents, as the spray from the washer will almost certainly get onto plants, and harsh cleaners can damage their foliage.
If you grow fruit trees, late winter is a good time to spray them with dormant oil for insect control and lime-sulfur for diseases. These organic sprays kill insect eggs, spores, and overwintering insects, leaving your trees fresh and healthy.
Check Your Plants
Winter can be harsh, and storms often cause damage. Look around the garden and see that everything came through intact. Make a note of plants that need pruning – shrubs that flower in summer and fall, red-twig dogwoods, roses, apple trees, to mention a few – and plan to do it soon. If you have damaged limbs on trees, trim them back to the collar, that swelling of bark at the point where branches meet the trunk. Don’t cut flush with the trunk, as this makes it easier for decay to become established and spread into the tree. If your hedge has collapsed, maybe it is time to plant a new one – order now to get the best new plants, and plan to prepare the soil well, with deep digging and compost.
Order New Shrubs & Trees
If there was damage to old plants, maybe it is time to replace them with something new. Perhaps you have some gaps in your garden, or maybe, like all gardener’s, you would just like something different in your garden to look at. Think about what you need – do you have seasons where not much is in bloom? Choose something that blooms at that time. It seems obvious, but in reality people tend to fall in love with particular plants, rather than considering their garden as a whole. Aim for a spread of blooming, from late winter to late fall, and include some fall colored foliage too. You can still grow what you love, just be sure to balance the blooming seasons. Thing about foliage color too – it’s a modern trend to have a sizable number of shrubs with golden, variegated, blue or red leaves, because colored foliage is there for months, whereas flowers, for all their beauty, only last a few weeks.
Always make room for something unique, that makes this ‘your’ garden. Choose something with a striking form, unusual foliage, dramatic flowering, rarity, or some other feature that makes it special. The ‘regular’, well-known plants are an essential part of a garden, giving stability and structure, but it will be the tree that no one else has that makes your garden stand out.
The best nurseries sell out fast, and you want to have your plants in the ground soon, so don’t delay ordering, while the widest range is still available.
Order Seeds and Summer Bulbs
Although most of your garden will be trees and shrubs, make room for some flowers too. Now is the best time to be ordering, while seeds and bulbs are fresh and still available. Besides perennial ground-covers, some easy-to-grow annual flowers like poppies or sweet alyssum are always cheerful. Look for flowers that can be seeded directly onto the soil in a sunny spot in front of your shrubs. This is the easiest way to have flowers, with no need for transplanting. Sow early, unless you get late frosts, so seedlings have time to develop well – otherwise late seeding may not bloom this year. After blooming some will even seed themselves and come back next year.
Another way to bring flowers in summer is with summer bulbs. These are planted in spring and flower the same year. Plants like Caladium in shady corners, or Canna lily in sunny spots, are an easy way to bring a tropical summer look to your garden, and let you pretend you are in the Caribbean. Crocosmia are bright red and orange flowers with iris-like foliage that bring a dramatic splash to the fall garden. In warmer areas they will overwinter, but in cold places you need to replant each spring.
Plan Something New
Make this the year you tackle that neglected corner of the garden. Put in a new patio for entertaining. Replace old hedges that are taking up space with new, slim ones that will garden space you didn’t know you even had. Make a more attractive entrance to your home. Whatever you do, make 2018 the year those garden dreams become reality. There are few things more satisfying than making a beautiful garden to spend the summer months in, and it doesn’t take a lot of skill – just a bit of getting dirty and encouraging the plants to grow. They do the real work for us!