With winter coming to a close and spring just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get excited about planning your garden for this year and preparing it for the upcoming season. No matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned green thumb, there are a few steps that any gardener should take to prepare their garden for spring. Whether you’ve got a large backyard garden or a tiny urban garden, you’ll want to get properly prepped for the spring and summer to be sure your plants will flourish.
Prep the Tools
Before you get down in the dirt, it’s time to prep the tools. Preparing your equipment is important as a preventative measure for minimizing the spread of funguses and bacteria. Most gardeners give their tools a clean before storing them for winter, as the remaining plant sap or debris can still hold bacteria or fungus spores. Funguses and plant diseases are not fun to deal with, and some can even live in soil for years. The best way to avoid this is by taking precautionary measures to clean your tools before introducing them back into the garden soil. Soak tools such as trowels, loppers, and shears for 30 minutes in a solution of water with a generous splash of bleach or vinegar to kill off any bacteria or spores. Be sure to give your tools a good rinse in clean water afterward and dry them off with an old towel to prevent corrosion and rust. For tools such as loppers, an annual generous coating of oil can help prevent rusting, too.
If you have electric or motorized gardening equipment, it's time to wake them up from their winter hibernation and get them ready for a summer of work. Tools such as rototillers, weed-whackers, and lawnmowers should be carefully inspected and cleaned. You can even consider changing the gasoline and oil in your equipment to ensure smooth sailing all summer long. Similarly, if you have a greenhouse of any kind or size, it’s time to get it tidied up and ready for growing.
Spring cleaning isn’t just for your pantry and closets. It’s for your garden, too! Whether you’re an in-ground gardener, raised-bed gardener, or a potted gardener, chances are there’s some old debris from last year that is ready to be tossed. Out with the old and in with the new!
While many gardeners do a good tidy in the fall, which is especially helpful for preventing pests from moving in over the winter, it’s important to do a good spring tidy as well. Once the snow has melted and the ground begins to thaw, it’s time to head outside and clean up winter’s leftovers. Bring a rake and a wheelbarrow to pick up dead leaves. Be sure to toss these in the compost as they are one of the most nutritious and delicious snacks for our soil superstars: worms! If you still have garden twine, stakes, or plant debris lying around from last year, be sure to clean it all up so you can start fresh this spring. It is often recommended that plant debris from the previous year be left out of the compost pile just in case it holds bacteria or fungal spores.
For perennial beds or permanent plantings, it’s time to wake them up for the incoming spring with a good tidy. Put on your gardening gloves, grab your rake, and carefully remove any mulch that was blanketed around perennial plants and shrubs in the fall. This mulch can either be spread throughout the bed or put into the compost pile. Keep in mind that the spring is an excellent time to apply a fresh layer of mulch to a permanent bed once the soil has been worked.
If you are a potted planter or patio gardener, cleaning up may be less work, but is still important to prepare the garden for spring and a bountiful growing season. Be sure that last year’s pots are clean and wiped down from any leftover dirt or debris. Pests may also be living in old pots or soil, as they like to hide there in the winter. Use a mixture of water with a splash of vinegar or bleach to wipe down pots in preparation for this year’s planting season. It’s also best to dispose of last year’s soil because the soil can either be nutritionally depleted or home to a variety of pests that moved in over the winter and who may cause infestation or disease this season. If you are prepping your perennials to move back outside for summer, this is a good time to change their potting soil, transplant them to a bigger pot, or give them a good fertilizing to start the spring off with a bang.
Weed and Pest Prevention
Now that we’ve gotten our spring cleaning underway, it’s time to focus on weed and pest prevention. A good green-thumb gardener will already be prepping the plan of attack in advance for how to best prevent and deter pests and weeds for the coming year. Like plant diseases, prevention is the best method for avoiding infestations from weeds and critters. While healthy plants will survive an aphid attack or being surrounded by crabgrass, they will likely not thrive. Pest and weed prevention are key for a successful and bountiful growing season. Getting your garden ready for spring means putting all preventative measures in place before weeds and pests take over. It’s important to remember that weeds and pests are not completely avoidable, but when you put in a little extra effort in the early spring to prevent them, you minimize the damage they can ultimately cause.
Regardless of your style of gardening, your plants will benefit from this extra prep. One of the best ways to prevent weeds and pests is to properly work the soil. As mentioned above, for patio or potted gardeners, simply changing the soil and cleaning the pots will suffice for preventing weeds and bugs. For in-ground and raised-bed gardeners, it’s time to do a good tilling and deep turning of the soil. As you work your soil, whether in annual beds or carefully around permanent plantings, be sure to remove any root matter or early sprouts of unwanted plants. Turning the soil and cleaning it up is also a good way to get rid of bugs or caterpillars that overwintered there and were just waiting to chomp down on your little seedlings.
Prepare the Soil
Now it’s time to sufficiently prepare the soil so it’s ready to grow a flourishing and bountiful garden for you this season. This could be a good time to do a soil test to learn which nutrients your soil needs more of and to check the PH or the acidity, so you know what amendments your soil needs. Keep in mind that some plants prefer slightly different PH levels and have a different nutrient spectrum than others, so adjust accordingly.
If you haven’t already turned the soil as mentioned above, now is the time! This is important for loosened soil that has been compacted over the winter, as it will encourage airflow and roots to grow. Add organic matters such as compost or manure and work deeply into the soil. This will add nutrients to your plants and increase soil retention. If you have raised beds, top them off with a little fresh soil and organic matter. Permanent plantings will also love a good dressing with compost that can be gently worked in around their roots. As mentioned, potted plants or patio gardens should have their soil completely refreshed with new potting soil. Be sure to use high-quality potting soil, which can easily be found at garden centers and plant-friendly stores, such as PlantShed.
Mulch and Prune
Now it’s time for the last step before you can begin to think about planting. Early spring is a good time to apply fresh mulch to permanent plantings such as bushes, shrubs, trees, and perennials. We recommend wood chips or cedar wood chips for an attractive mulch that retains moisture, keeps out weeds and nourishes the soil. Spread a generous 2-4 inch layer of mulch over the bed for best results. Use your shears or loppers to snip off any dead plant material from last year. The best time to prune is always dependent on the plant, but a good general rule of thumb is to snip off dead growth to make room for new growth in the spring.
Spring is a busy season for gardeners, even those with the most modest of gardens. Proper preparation in spring is vital for building the strong foundations of a successful growing season.