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3 Essential Early-Spring Garden Tasks

Feeling a bit overwhelmed with prepping your garden for spring? Fear not! Here are my 3 most essential gardening tasks to get your space in tip-top shape for the season ahead.

A riot of purple crocus signal spring is near! Image by seawhisper courtesy AdobeStock.
A riot of purple crocus signal spring is near! Image by seawhisper courtesy AdobeStock.

1. Prune Shrubs + Cutback Perennials/Grasses

There are a handful of shrubs that really benefit from a good pruning this time of year for both shape and bloom/growth performance.

Early-spring rose pruning. Image by Gorilla courtesy AdobeStock.
Early-spring rose pruning. Image by Gorilla courtesy AdobeStock.

MY GO-TO LIST OF SHRUBS TO PRUNE RIGHT NOW:

  • Buxus (boxwood)

  • Ilex (holly)

  • Taxus (yew)

  • Buddleia (butterfly bush)

  • Hydrangea paniculata (i.e., "Limelight", "Bobo", "Tardiva", "Phantom", etc.)

  • Roses

  • Vitex (chaste tree)

  • Salix "Hakuro Nishiki"(willow)

  • Prunus laurocerasus (skip laurel)

  • Spirea japonica (summer-flowering spirea - usually pink flowers)

  • Lavender

  • Clethra (summersweet)

  • Cotinus (smoke bush)

*Also, don't forget your autumn clematis vine.*


Now is also the time to cut back spent growth on your perennials and ornamental grasses. These plantings should be cut back to between 2"-4" from the ground to make way for new growth. Don't forget to sharpen your tools prior to this!

Freshly cut-back ornamental grasss and lavender. Image by Michal courtesy AdobeStock.
Freshly cut-back ornamental grasss and lavender. Image by Michal courtesy AdobeStock.

Pro Tip: If you already see new growth on your ornamental grasses, be sure not to prune this and just cut the old growth back to just above the height of the new growth. Otherwise, it can grow in looking a bit awkward.

EQUALLY IMPORTANT DO NOT PRUNE LIST:

  • Syringa (lilac)

  • Hydrangea macrophylla (blue/pink/purple-flowering hydrangeas)

  • Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea)

  • Rhododendrons

  • Azaleas

  • Any other spring-flowering shrub


PLANTS THAT NEED SPECIAL TREATMENT:

  • Nassella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass), needs to be "combed" out by hand to remove spent growth.


2. Fertilize Plants

Sprinkle granular, slow-release fertilizer around the base of your plants. Image by Valerii Honcharuk courtesy AdobeStock.
Sprinkle granular, slow-release fertilizer around the base of your plants. Image by Valerii Honcharuk courtesy AdobeStock.

Many of our ornamental plantings perform (i.e., bloom) much better if given fertilizer at the start of spring. I like using an organic, granular, slow-release fertilizer like Plant-Tone (Espoma) as it's easy to apply, effective, and in many cases only needs to be put down 1x a season. Osmocote and Dr. Earth are my other favorite brands.


3. Remove Any Weeds

Image by rosinka79 courtesy AdobeStock.
Image by rosinka79 courtesy AdobeStock.

That's right, there are a few sneaky varieties of weeds that get their start during the winter (looking at you, dandelion). Getting rid of these now means they won't be stealing any water or nutrition from your soon-to-be emerging garden plantings. It also (hopefully) means that they won't have a chance to flower and spread their seeds. I like using this hori-hori to dig them out.


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