April showers may bring May flowers, but a bit of pre-spring gardening will bring even more blooms
Right between the doldrums of winter and the colorful burst of spring comes a limbo of sorts, particularly for garden and lawn care. If we head to the backyard with our seedlings and shovels too early, a late-March snow shower can ruin all our hard work. If we wait too long, well, we haveplay catchup to get the most out of our blooms.
Despite nature's finicky nature, early spring is a fantastic time to prep your flower beds, start seeds, trees, and lawn for the upcoming planting season. Take a look at these 11 spring landscaping tips for a solid start to the season.
1. Get to Know Your Frost Zone
First things first—even if your friend down in North Carolina has tomato plants in the ground already, it doesn't mean you should up in Massachusetts. Check the Farmer's Almanac each year for approximate final frost dates.
Perennials, trees, and many types of grass remain dormant until this time, and this determines how much water, fertilizer, and general disturbance they can take. New plants, including most flowers, herbs, and veggies, should wait until after the last front to avoid damage.
2. Clear Away Debris
When that final patch of snow finally melts, it's time to check how your yard fared in the winter. Remove winter mulch from your flower beds to allow the ground to thaw. Clear sticks and remaining leaves from your lawn as well. In the first few passes, be gentle with your lawn as you rake, especially if the grass is still dormant yet to green up.
3. Address Winter Lawn Damage
Grass turfs can typically handle the hard weather of winter, but issues do occur. Snow mold—a common fungus that develops under thick snow—can cause rings or patches during the cold months. Keep in mind that you can treat your lawn for snow mold before winter or early spring with a lawn fungicide.
Make a note of any yellow patches from deicer, too much traffic, or a visit from the local dog.
4. Launch Early Spring Lawn Care
Once your lawn fully thaws, check for overgrown thatch and make a plan to reapply fertilizer and, if necessary, a reseeding layer.
Ease into rewatering your lawn before the weather levels out. There's no reason to break out the hose on the first warm day of the year. Your grass needs some time to deepen its roots and come out of dormancy. During this stage, wait until your lawn doesn't bounce back when you step on it to give it a light drink.
Lastly, it's time to break out the mower, essential garden tools, and supplies if you haven't already. Bring your tools to the hardware tool for professional sharpening and check on the fuel and oil levels in your mower.
5. Check In With Your Trees
A winter wonderland puts a lot of pressure on branches and trees. The early spring is an excellent time to bring in a local arborist to check your trees for instability, rot, disease, or pests. If you'd rather prune on your own, your tree expert can advise on how to properly and safely trim the ends of branches while avoiding flowering trees that prefer to keep their buds.
6. Prep for Pests
Cutworms are notorious garden pests that appear as early as the first thaw. First appearing as larvae, these young moths can damage plants and roots. Removing winter debris and mulch and overturning the soil can help you catch cutworms before they flourish. Consider a natural insecticide such as soapy water to get rid of early invaders, or consult a local pest control team for garden-safe methods.
7. Keep Up With Weeds
If you're itching to start gardening, but it's not quite time to bring out the tomato plants, focus on weeds. Weeds will start popping up the moment they get the chance—in your flower beds, around your perennial bushes, and in between stepping stones. Pay particular care to your hardscape. If left to overgrow, weeds can throw off the balance of stepping stones and even cause damage to your pavers.
8. Divide Your Perennials
To spread out your forsythia, garden mums, or hostas, divide their roots in early to mid-spring after you've had a chance to water them thoroughly. Dividing one involves delicately splitting a grouping of roots and transplanting perennial plants separately to thrive on their own—a bit like propagating a succulent. Be sure to check instructions for your unique species, as not all like to be divided in the early spring.
9. Fertilize Perennials
Speaking of perennials, flowering plants love a layer of fertilizer just before their growth season. According to the Farmer's Almanac, apply fertilizer to the perennials about a week before the last frost but after the ground has thawed.
As for the rest of the garden, add a slow-release fertilizer marked specifically for flowering plants and vegetable gardens. Be careful about overfertilizing early in the spring to avoid overwhelming plants coming out of their winter sleep.
10. Wait on Mulch
It may be tempting to break out the mulch the second you prune and divide your perennials, but this insulating layer can actually slow down the natural thawing process. Apply mulch around your perennials several weeks after the final frost and once you have consistently warm temperatures.
11. Start with Hardy Plants
There are a handful of tough vegetables that don't mind the cold as much. You can either grow these hardy veggies indoors or buy them from your garden store as seedlings. Plants that can go into a thawed ground before the final frost include spinach, sunflowers, lettuce, and radishes. Soon after, consider kale, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and parsnips.
The first signs of spring are also fine reminders to get on your local landscaper or lawn care team's schedule before they book up. Schedule monthly visits to check in on the health of your plants, lawn, and trees.