6 Ways to Get Your Garden Ready for Spring

Tackle simple tasks to grow your best garden ever.

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Spring lunges out of the starting gate like a thoroughbred sprinting for the Triple Crown. Every year I marvel at the speed of spring’s progress—and at my own inability to keep up. From the moment the first crocuses nourish foraging bees, I’m scrambling through endless to-do lists.

White Crocus With Purple Stripes

Mixed Crocus

Crocus is a bulb that blooms in early spring.

Photo by: Colorblends.com


If, like me, you find spring’s pace a bit aggressive, try crafting your own list of chores to get your garden ready for spring. I keep a to-do list that I review and update as the season progresses. Use a few of these ideas to start your own list.

1. Edge

Neat planting bed edges give any garden that wow factor. I like a clean deep trench edge between lawn and beds. Neaten edges with a fresh cut or scoop out any accumulated soil or mulch. Keep edges weeded and grass-free. Sprinkle a pre-emergent herbicide like Preen into edges to suppress weed seed germination. Raised garden beds make edge maintenance a non-issue, and if you’re not inclined to fuss over edges, they’re probably the way to go.

Timing: Tackle edge maintenance all spring. It’s a great job for early spring when not much is up and there’s little else to do.

2. Prune Roses

Landscape Roses Or Shrub Roses

Flower Carpet White Rose

Trim landscape roses like Flower Carpet White rose in early spring as new growth is appearing. Fertilize after pruning.

Photo by: Anthony Tesselaar Plants at Tesselaar.com

Anthony Tesselaar Plants at Tesselaar.com

Prune shrub and other landscape roses before new shoots are more than 1/2-inch long. Place cuts to shape roses and remove dead, rubbing or wayward stems.

Timing: In mild winter regions, aim to do this while forsythia is flowering. In the coldest regions, avoid pruning until after the last average spring frost date.

3. Weed

It’s never too early to start weeding. Grab weeds as soon as you see them. Use a pre-emergent herbicide containing corn gluten to disrupt weed seed germination for up to three months.

Timing: Time major weeding projects for after rain, when soil is soft and weeds slip out easily.

4. Stake

Hollyhock With Grow-Through Stake

Insert Perennial Stakes In Spring

Get a jump on floppy perennials by inserting stakes in spring as new growth appears. Grow-through type stakes are especially important to add early on plants like peony, hollyhock and delphinium.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

For tall plants, like hollyhock, Rudbeckia lacinata, peony or perennial hibiscus, insert stakes around plants when growth is small. This is a task I’m historically slow to tackle and often pay the price by trying to prop top-heavy plants even as I stake them. The outcome usually involves broken stems and the occasional insect sting.

Timing: Add stakes by the time plants are one-third of their final height.

5. Fertilize

Spreading Slow Release Fertilizer

Spring Perennial Fertilizing

After cutting perennials back in spring, sprinkle slow release fertilizer around the base of plants, scratching it into soil. Apply before rain, or water in after applying.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Feed plants in early spring as new growth appears. Use a fertilizer with low numbers on the bag, such as 4-2-4 or 3-4-4. For the best price, look for fertilizer in bulk size from a farm supply type store. To feed, sprinkle a handful of fertilizer around the base of plants and gently scratch it into soil with your fingers or a hand rake. Feed all plants, including perennials, spring and summer bulbs, and perennial vegetables like asparagus and rhubarb. Fertilize roses after pruning.

Timing: Apply fertilizer when new growth is just emerging. Fertilizer should be watered in, so apply before soaking rains (not heavy storms, which can wash fertilizer away).

6. Clip, Thin and Pinch

Cutting Tools for Perennial Pruning

Hand Pruners And Scissors

For most perennials, you can tackle spring clean up and pruning using hand pruners and scissors.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Remove any old perennial stems from last year’s growth with a quick clip using scissors or hand pruners. It seems easy to yank stems, but with some perennials, a tug brings up new growth. Cut back ornamental grasses that die with winter before new growth appears. Thin crowded or aggressive spreading perennials. Share clumps with friends, or compost them. Pinch or clip stem tips to promote branching in plants like bee balm, agastache or joe-pye weed.

Timing: Remove dead stems as soon as you can get into planting areas. Thin perennials after rains so plants pull up easily. Pinch when stems are roughly one-third of their final height.

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