Prepping Your Garden for Spring


Daffodils and hellebores blooming in spring in the garden.
Image by HM Proudlove courtesy iStock.

No matter the temperature outside, most of us are seeing sure signs of spring beginning to pop up here and there – not to mention the welcome increase in daylight. But before all our plants begin to awaken in earnest, here are some most-do tasks to help get your garden in shipshape for springtime.


Cut back spent perennials and ornamental grasses

Pruning back perennials in spring.
Image by C. Glade courtesy iStock.

If you've left perennials and grasses to persist through the winter months, it's time to trim them back to make way for new growth. I like to cut things back as close to the crown (the green base) of the plant as possible – about 1-2" from the ground. If your ornamental grasses have already started sending up new growth be sure not to cut off any of that green as it will grown in awkwardly and may effect flowering.


*Do not cut back Nassella tennuissima (Mexican feather grass), but instead comb out any spent blades with your hands*


Shape evergreens

Pruning a boxwood shrub for shape.
Image by aloha_17 courtesy iStock.

If you didn't do any shaping to your boxwood, yew, ilex (holly) or other evergreen shrubs last fall, now is the time to do so. This will encourage healthy new growth and a tidier shape.


Prune (some) summer-flowering shrubs

There are a few summer-flowering shrubs that respond with an increased flourish of blooms and a fuller, bushier shape when given a hard cutback this time of year. In case you need a little guidance, here's a video tutorial for pruning. Popular summer-flowering shrubs to prune now include:

  • Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush)

  • Hydrangea paniculata

  • Hydrangea arborescens

  • Cotinus coggygria (smoke bush)

  • Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree)

  • Roses

*If you're starting to see signs of new growth on these shrubs, make this your first task and do so asap. Ideally this job is done before the plant begins to leaf out.


Refresh mulch

Adding mulch to garden beds.
Image by SbytovaMN courtesy iStock.

A fresh layer of mulch will continue to break down and feed the soil while also regulating moisture and temperature. I also love how it lessens the amount of weeds that (inevitably) emerge each year.


Sow herb, veggie and annual seeds

I'm trying out lots of new seeds for our cut-flower garden and veggie garden this year.
I'm trying out lots of new seeds for our cut-flower garden and veggie garden this year.

Growing your own plants from seed is such a fascinating, simple and satisfying experience and now is the time to get started! If you're new to growing seeds, check out this quick and easy guide for selecting and buying seeds and this article for getting them going.


Feed and prep the lawn

Weed, feed, seed and aerate are the four key moves to give your lawn a great start to the year. Remove any obvious weeds that have snuck in since you last cared for it – this hori-hori by Nisaku is the perfect tool for the task. Follow up by aerating the lawn to loosen tight roots and encourage fresh growth. Finish by overseeding any bare or thin spots and applying an organic slow-release fertilizer. This one from Espoma is what I'm using this year. I like to fertilize the day before it's forecasted to rain to help it start working into the soil.


Fertilize garden beds

Imagine going into a big workout on an empty stomach. You can get through it, but you probably didn't perform as well as you could. Now imagine doing that same workout, but having a healthy snack beforehand. Pretty big difference, right? This is the same thought process behind fertilizing your garden beds at this time of year. If fertilizer is in place when the plants wake up, they'll have that essential fuel to help them do their best as they spring forth into blooming action. I've long been a big fan of organic Plant-Tone from Espoma as well as Bio-Tone (also Espoma) for newer plantings.