How to Prepare Your Garden for Spring
As winter winds down, you’re likely itching to get out of the house and into the garden. It may be too soon to start planting, but there are still plenty of reasons why late winter is the perfect time to start preparing your garden for spring.
At Garden Goods Direct, we want homeowners everywhere to have the confidence to get outdoors and spend some time in the garden. We’re expert horticulturists who work to share our knowledge with gardeners like you. Our goal is to make a difference by encouraging you to add some green to your own space. We want you to feel hopeful and self-assured when the time comes to start preparing your garden for spring planting!
Whether you have an existing garden or are starting one for the first time, read on for some tips for spring gardening.
Starting a New Garden
If you’re starting from scratch, there are a few things you will need to consider before you prepare for spring gardening. First you’ll need to choose your space, and you want one that has the following conditions:
- Is relatively level
- Is near a water source
- Receives at least six hours of sunlight each day
- Has sufficient drainage
- Is blocked from intense winds by trees or fencing
Following the above guidelines will help ensure you set up your garden for success this year and in years to come. Once you choose a spot, consider testing your soil. This will tell you about its nutrient composition, which will help you determine how to properly amend it with fertilizer, compost, grass clippings or mulch.
If you already have a garden, continue reading for our best advice on how to prepare for spring gardening.
Gardening Chores for Early Spring
Several weeks to a month before you’re ready for planting, dust off your gardening tools — it’s time to get to work!
Here are some tips for how to prepare your yard for spring planting:
- Clean your garden tools. This is an essential step because it prevents the spread of insect eggs and fungus.
- Start some basic cleanup. Remove dead leaves and fallen branches from your garden area so you have a clear space to work with.
- Clean out all drainage areas in your garden. This is important for ensuring you have adequate soil drainage come spring. Debris and dead leaves that are cleared from your drainage ditches can be a great addition to your compost, too.
- Repair any damage to garden fixtures. Early spring is a good time for this step. Fix any raised beds that have bowed sides and repair any broken pieces of fencing or trellises.
- Pull weeds from your garden space. Spring is a good time to pull any young weeds that have appeared in your garden. Take the opportunity to pull any dead plant matter or foliage of existing plants as well. Then, add three to four inches of mulch to any bare spots, which will help prevent new weeds from sprouting.
- Test your soil pH. If your soil has a pH level below 6.2, consider adding lime, such as Dolomite. Add lime a few weeks before you plan to start planting.
- Give your lawn some attention. Rake your grass to eliminate any debris or dead growth that accumulated over the winter. Then, re-seed any bare spots. Keep those spots watered until the grass is established.
- Divide any perennials. Try to time this so that you are dividing them when they are about two to four inches If you are starting a new perennial bed from scratch, apply a six-inch-thick layer of compost to the new bed and work it into the soil.
- Cut back dead foliage and prune unwanted or dead branches from trees and shrubs. The exception is spring-blooming plants. Trees and shrubs that are set to bloom in the spring should be left alone, as their buds will be opening as soon as temperatures start to warm. However, early spring is the best time to prune fruit trees. Be sure to prune them well in advance of their buds blooming.
- Transplant the plants you would like to. Early spring is a good time to transplant perennials and shrubs because the soil still tends to be moist. You will want to transplant prior to leaf out. Use a spade to loosen the plant’s root ball, and be sure to dig a new hole that is larger all around. Add a soil amendment, like compost, before completing the transplanting.
The Basics of Seed Starting
After cleaning up your yard and preparing your beds, it’s time to think about planting! Be aware that certain plants won’t be able to thrive if they are started directly in the garden, as the air and soil temperatures may be too cool.
Starting these plants in containers indoors several weeks ahead of time is a great option. Then, when the weather is warm enough, you can transplant the seedlings into your garden. As an alternative, you can buy young plants to go directly in the garden when the time is right.
Here are some basics to start your plants from seed:
Create a Planting Calendar
To properly plan for starting seeds inside, refer to the information provided on the seed packet. It will tell you exactly when to start the seeds. These instructions will differ depending on the plant. To keep track, we recommend creating a planting calendar to let you know when to start each plant.
To do this, take time to review all of your seed packets and sort them by the week they will need to be started. Each packet will list a range of time for sowing seeds, such as “start 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date.” Write the corresponding week on each seed packet and separate them by date.
Get the Right Materials
Before starting seeds inside, be sure to gather the right materials, like a proper growing mix, containers, heat, light and, of course, water.
A fresh, bagged seed-starting mix will work. As for containers, any three- or four-inch container, such as recycled cell-packs, pots or yogurt containers, will suffice. Be sure to sterilize them using a bleach solution.
You can also try paper cups, recycled newspaper or cardboard, which can be used for compost when you’re done with them. Whatever type of container you choose, make sure they have holes in the bottom and are placed on a tray for proper drainage.
Give Your Seedlings Plenty of TLC
Set up your plants in a spot that will allow the soil to stay warm. You can use natural light if you have an exceptionally sunny spot near a window. If not, use fluorescent bulbs, such as T-12 and T-8 fluorescent shop lights. Use a two-tube light fixture, with one cool-white bulb and one red-light bulb. This will expose plants to a wider spectrum of light.
Keep lights three to four inches above the plants as they grow, lifting the fixture as time goes on. Expose the seedlings to 16 to 18 hours of light per day — a simple solution is to use a timer to control the lights. This will save you from having to remember to turn them on and off.
Be sure to water your seedlings properly and check on them each day. Research the different plants you have for specific information about the amount of water and light required for them to thrive. Keep an eye on the weather in your area, and be careful not to transplant too early. We prefer to err on the side of caution and transplant later, rather than sooner. More on that later!
Final Preparations for Your Spring Garden
A few weeks before you plan to start planting, prepare your garden beds by working in cover crops, if you have them. This will give them a chance to start decomposing in the soil. If you didn’t plant cover crops, you will instead want to pull any remaining weeds and dead plants from the soil at this time.
Next, you will want to loosen the soil. Exposure to the elements and plain old gravity will result in compacted soil over time. Breaking up the soil will allow roots to move through it more easily, and it will also help the soil warm up and dry out. If you are starting with a newer garden bed that might contain roots or rocks, use a digging fork or shovel to break up the soil. In more established garden beds, you can use a broadfork for loosening soil.
It will be easiest to do this when the soil is dry. To determine if the soil is dry enough for working in, follow these steps:
- Pick up a handful of soil, about one-half cup’s worth.
- Squeeze it in your hand so that it forms a ball.
- If the ball can easily be broken up by applying some pressure to it with your fingers or by dropping it from a height of about three feet, it’s dry enough.
- If the ball maintains its shape or just breaks up into a few sections without crumbling, it’s probably still too wet.
To ensure the soil is sufficiently nutrient-rich for your plants, amend it with either a synthetic fertilizer or an organic fertilizer. Organic options will be healthier for your soil and cheaper for you! Some excellent choices for organic fertilizer include:
- Compost. Compost is extremely rich in nutrients. You can make your own or obtain some from a local farmer. Cover your garden beds with a half-inch to full-inch of compost.
- Grass clippings. Grass clippings are also nutrient rich. They can slow the growth of weeds and make it easier for the soil to store water. Ask your neighbors if they can spare some or check with your city to see if they offer yard waste compost for free. Spread one to two inches of clippings onto the soil, or spread a half-inch of clippings and mix it into the soil.
- Mulch. Use it on its own or along with compost. Spread an inch or more onto the soil. As it decomposes, it will release nutrients into the soil.
When Should You Start Planting?
Once the soil is frost-free and dry enough to work with, you can begin gardening! Cool-season crops can be planted earlier in the season. Some examples include:
- Brussels sprouts
You must still be careful when planting in the early spring, though. These plants can be vulnerable should there be an early spring frost. If you are anticipating a frost, cover your seedlings overnight. You can use a bucket, container or cardboard box. You may also use a cold frame, which is like a miniature greenhouse that sits on top of a raised bed, or even a starter greenhouse.
In addition, be aware of cabbage moth, which can appear on plants after the last of the frost is gone. The cabbage moth will lay eggs on the lower stems of plants like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. When these eggs hatch, the caterpillars can often cause the seedlings to die. Protect your seedlings by using a barrier paper or row covers.
Warm-season crops can wait until a little later in the season. Ideally, you will want to wait until after the last frost date in your area. Examples of warm-season crops include:
If you are transplanting seedlings from indoors, you will want to allow them to get accustomed to the outdoor air first. This process is called “hardening off.” Set the plants outside in a shaded spot for a couple of hours. Do this each day for a week or so before transplanting, increasing the number of hours the plants spend outside each day.
Plan Ahead for Less Stress and More Fun
Now that we’ve reviewed how to prepare for spring gardening, chances are you might feel a little intimidated — especially if you are a beginner. Not to worry! Gardening is meant to be an enjoyable activity, and we want everyone to feel comfortable — and have fun — beautifying their own space.
If you plan carefully and follow the advice above, you’ll have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish each month, week and day leading up to spring.
If expense is a concern, there are plenty of ways to check everything off your spring gardening ‘to do’ list without breaking the bank.
Before you do anything, though, set a budget. Decide how much you are able to spend on your gardening activities. Factor in the cost of seeds, plants, tools, soil amendments and any materials necessary for starting seeds indoors.
There are several ways to keep gardening affordable:
- Use seeds that were saved from the previous year, or ask your friends or neighbors for if they have any leftovers. Make sure when you store seeds from year to year, they are being kept in a warm, dry environment.
- Break out a pencil and paper and draw up a plan for your garden. Think about everything you’d like to plant in your garden this year and where exactly it will be placed. This will help you determine what your space will accommodate. Use your rendering as the basis for your shopping list. This will ensure you are buying exactly the plants you will need and prevent you from purchasing too much.
- Don’t rush planting! Follow the guidelines above, and be conservative when deciding when to start planting. If you plant too early, you run the risk of all of your hard work being ruined by a late-season frost. Do your best to wait past the last frost date.
- When in doubt, keep it simple. If you’re a novice gardener or if you do not have a lot to spend, the simpler you keep your garden, the better. Start with what you can handle, time and budget-wise, even if it means beginning with just a handful of different plant varieties. Each year, as your confidence grows, so can your garden!
Shop Online With Us
When you shop with us, we can help you understand the characteristics of different plants, what size the plants will be upon delivery and instructions for planting and ongoing care. You won’t have to venture into a nursery on your own or worry about how to bring large or heavy plants safely back to your home.
You can also be sure that any of our plants will have Woodie’s Quality Seal of Approval. They are either grown by us or by one of our growing partners, and they are of the highest landscape grade.
Orders are often delivered next-day and are always in good health. If the plants you receive do not meet your expectations, you can send them back for a full refund.
Remember, as you prepare for spring gardening, we are available to answer all of your gardening questions, from getting the right tools to selecting the right plants. Feel free to reach out by phone or email.
See you in the garden!