At winter's end, gardening can seem more like a sprint than a marathon. There’s much to be done as the days lengthen and temperatures rise. But by separating the "must-do ASAP" chores from those that can wait until later in the season, you can enjoy your garden now.
Put these jobs at the top of your to-do list as weather and time allow:
- Clear the lawn of any leaves and debris that has accumulated over the winter. The young blades of grass need as much light as possible to grow strong, and sunlight helps to discourage disease problems.
- If crabgrass has been a problem in your lawn, early spring is prime time to apply Preen Lawn Crabgrass Preventer. Apply according to the label instructions as soon as the soil temperature warms to 55 degrees. You can apply up until 4 weeks after the crabgrass has germinated - usually March through early May, depending on your climate.
- Clean out and compost winter-killed foliage from perennials and ornamental grasses to make way for new growth. Spent annuals should have been removed last fall. Dig any winter-sprouted or perennial weeds.
- Late-blooming shrubs, such as butterfly bushes, rose-of Sharon, beautyberry, summersweet, and caryopteris bloom on new growth. Prune and shape as soon as new growth appears. Be careful not to prune any silver-foliaged shrubs too early. Young shoots should be at least ½″ long.
- Prepare soil and plant early spring vegetables as soil conditions allow.
- Decide if you will use systemic pesticides to head off pests and diseases such as woolly adelgids on hemlocks or black spot on roses.
These jobs can wait until as late as April or May, depending upon where you live:
- Trim up hedges to make the whole garden look neater and well cared-for.
- Scratch in a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, to flower and vegetable beds as soon as ground has dried out.
- When the soil has warmed, apply a 2″–3″ dressing of compost or other organic mulch to vegetable and flower beds to retain soil moisture, discourage weeds, and help to maintain soil temperature. Avoid stepping on and compacting wet soil.
- Prune roses after new shoots have sprouted. Prune early-spring blooming shrubs such as forsythia as soon as they have finished flowering.
- Don’t cut off any green bulb foliage after bloom time. Wait until it has yellowed before removal. Fading foliage manufactures valuable food for next years' flowers.
- Patch dead spots in the lawn as they become apparent. Edge existing beds.
- Divide summer-blooming perennials such as coreopsis, daisies, Siberian iris, and hosta. Replant strong young plantlets from the outside of the clump.
Late Season Tasks
These tasks can be put off until late summer or fall:
- Dig new garden beds, expand existing ones, or add walls, edging, and other hardscaping.
- Pile woody prunings as the season progresses, and chip them later.
- Plant or transplant trees, shrubs, and evergreens.
- Thin and shape woody trees and shrubs—especially ones in less noticeable locations.
- Check the pH of the lawn soil. Apply lime if warranted.
Next winter, clean tools, sharpen blades, restock garden supplies and build plant protectors before warm weather approaches. A season-long timetable of major garden tasks can relieve you of the feeling of panic as the garden wakes up in late winter.