Guide to Getting Your Garden Ready After Winter

Avid gardeners often spend the winter months dreaming about the upcoming growing season. At the first hint of warmth in the air, a gardener might explore an area to begin preparing it for the upcoming season. As the Earth wakes up from winter, the gardener must work to get it ready for growing. Spring gardening is often rejuvenating, both for the garden and the gardener who has been waiting to get back to digging in the soil.

Cleaning Up the Garden

Spring gardening often begins with basic garden prep that centers around cleaning up the planting area. As soon as the weather is warm enough to get outside, it's prudent to begin cleaning out the area. Remove old plant debris from the previous growing season as soon as possible. The savvy gardener will have already removed as much debris as possible at the end of the last growing season. Leaving an area clean at the end of the autumn is best for the garden because it helps keep the soil healthy. Leaving old plant debris in a growing area can contribute to soil-borne diseases. Insects might also hide in this debris, which could be problematic for the upcoming growing season. Weeds often grow over the off-season, so remove this undesired growth if you find it.

Preparing the Soil

All types of plants need healthy, fertile soil. This type of soil contains rich nutrients to nourish plants, and it drains effectively. The best type of soil will be dark, loose, and crumbly. Spring is the ideal time to add organic matter to the soil to improve its structure and density. The right soil structure will support plant roots, drain away moisture, and nourish the plants. Organic matter such as compost or peat moss is perfect for adding to existing garden soil. Add between 25 and 30 percent organic matter to the total soil volume, which will probably be about 4 inches of organic matter. Spread the compost or peat moss evenly over the surface of the soil, then work it in well with a pitchfork or tiller.

Spring Pruning

Spring is a good time to prune many perennial plants and shrubs. However, proceed carefully to avoid removing areas of a plant that are set to bloom during the upcoming growing season. Thin an overgrown plant by cutting some stems off completely. This type of pruning will allow light to filter over the entire plant, which can improve growth. Look for any growth that appears unhealthy or dead, and remove these stems. A common gardening rule is to cut back approximately one-third of the oldest growth of a plant or shrub each spring to keep it healthy and thriving. After spring bulbs such as daffodils and tulips have finished blooming, cut off the spent blossoms. This helps the bulbs reserve nutrients for the next spring's bloom.

Spring Gardening Tips

Although it's tempting to get outdoors into the garden as soon as possible, it's best to wait until the soil has dried somewhat from the excessive winter moisture. Test the soil to see if it's dry enough to work. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hand. If the soil crumbles apart easily in your fingers, it's ready to work. If the soil remains in a ball in your hand, it is too moist to till. Wait to remove mulch around perennials until overnight lows won't dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; otherwise, plant roots might suffer frost damage. Try to avoid walking over a freshly tilled garden area because your feet could compact the soil, which makes it difficult for plants to grow. Spring garden prep can also involve dividing many perennial plants. You will know that a perennial needs dividing if the blossoms become smaller than usual. Dig up the perennial carefully to avoid damaging the root system. Break apart the plant carefully into even sections, and replant the separated sections as soon as possible at the original depth.

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