March 20, 2018—the day those of us who love nothing more than getting dirty in the backyard have longed for.
It’s the first day of spring and, although we’re ready, our gardens may not be.
In fact, before stepping one foot onto your home’s landscaping, “give the soil the ‘squirt’ test,” cautions landscape contractor Roger Cook, at thisoldhouse.com.
“Step down hard on the ground. If water squirts up around your boot, stay out,” he continues. Walking on soggy soil may cause compaction problems. So, if water does squirt out of the soil, wait a couple of days and try the test again.
But there are lots of other things to do to get you and your yard ready for spring.
1. Make a plan
If your planting beds require revitalization, put a plan on paper. What plants will you remove and what do you need to buy to replace them? Draw diagrams of different locations to see which spot fits best.
2. Check your gardening equipment
Sharp pruners and mower blades make clean cuts so if yours are on the dull side, have them professionally sharpened. If you prefer the DIY route, you’ll find a walkthrough of the sharpening process online at familyhandyman.com or see Martha Stewart’s video. Don’t forget to five the lawnmower a tune-up.
3. Prune trees and shrubs
Pruning frost-sensitive shrubs isn’t a good idea right now as there may still be a frost danger. Hardier perennials, however, will take to pruning quite well. First, get rid of damaged and dead branches. Those that are damaged can be cut back to live tissue, but completely prune away dead branches.
4. Cut back perennials
Cut down your flowering perennials to a height of about 6 inches. Ornamental grasses should be pruned to 4 to 5 inches in height.
Wait to prune roses until right after the last frost, just before the plant breaks dormancy. Better Homes and Gardens offers tips on rose pruning.
5. Clean up beds and borders
Once the pruning is finished it’s time for cleanup. A leaf vacuum or blower will rid the yard of whatever winter blew in but you may need a rake for the larger, heavier items.
Use a leaf vacuum or blower to get rid of accumulated leaves and twigs and a rake for larger items, such as branches.
6. How’s the soil?
Although the soil amending process is ideally performed in fall, it can be done in spring. As soon the weather permits, aerate and amend the soil in your beds and borders. No, it’s not a quick task, but it will pay off in the long run.
Pull back the mulch from around your current plantings and use a garden fork to carefully loosen the top 2 to 3 inches of soil (don’t disturb the plant’s roots). Then, lay down about 3 inches of compost and use the fork to mix it into the soil around the plant. Then, replace the mulch, if it’s still in good shape.
Cook recommends replacing the mulch each year, but we know that can get a bit pricey, especially in large yards. If it’s still in good condition, rake the beds to ensure even mulch coverage.
7. Thinking of adding some color for summer?
Consider the following bulbs, which can be planted now:
- Asiatic lilies
- Oriental lilies
- Crocosmia (Crocosmia aurea)
- Chinese ground orchids (Bletilla striata)
- Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis)
8. The lawn
If the lawn has dried out, give it a good raking to get rid of all the debris that flew in over the winter. If you rake deeply, you’ll also solve thatch problems. Then, inspect the lawn for signs of moss, soil compaction and bare spots.