A spring day may start sunny and promising but turn chilly and gray before lunch. Don't let this fickleness keep you indoors. It's spring and the garden needs you!
You can tell when your beds need attention by determining if winter has released its frosty grip. Can you dig in the soil? Are crocuses finished, daffodils blooming, and tulips showing some greenery?
Bundle Up and Get to Work!
Pull on an old sweatshirt and some heavy socks and gather your tools and gardening gloves. Load the wheelbarrow with a spading fork; then spade; hand pruners; garden knife; and a short-handled weeder. You will also need a rake and edger.
Begin by cutting out old stubble. This will allow you to rake accumulated leaves and debris from the garden. Trim any standing stalks leftover from last year. Cut away twisted, broken, weak-looking, and overgrown branches from evergreens and small, garden shrubbery.
Clean up greening plants by removing most of the old leaves to allow the new to burst forth. If you don't get every one of last year's leaves, don't worry.
When the soil is moist and easy to turn, edge the beds so that they are neat.
Mulch and Fertilize
When there is no danger of another frost, remove the mulch you put down last fall. Scoop away mulch and debris from corners and crannies in the garden. These are places where bugs and fungi hide.
Expose the soil to sunlight for several days and then apply new mulch.
This is a big job - even small garden beds claim large amounts of mulch. The local landfill may offer mulch to residents free of charge, an increasingly common practice.
When the garden begins to show signs of life - also called "breaking dormancy" - it's time to fertilize. No one single fertilizer is right for every bed and every plant.
Ask the experts at the garden center or the county agent's office what types of fertilizer are best for your garden and your plants. Some, such as azaleas and hollies, need acidic fertilizers; others need more alkaline formulations.
Spread fertilizer beneath the plant as far as the canopy of the branches. Scratch it into the soil with a garden fork or your fingers, and then water well.
Divide Perennials and Prune Shrubs
Perennials that have grown large should be divided. Spring and early fall are the classic times for this chore. While nearly all perennials can be divided either time springtime is the best for most.
Some plants should be divided only after they flower.
The following common perennials should be divided now springtime, not in the fall. Depending on their configuration, use your hands, a spade, or a knife to split them into two plants:
Bleeding hearts (wait until they flower)
Primroses (wait until they flower)
Prune shrubbery in the early spring when you can see the barebones shape of the plant. Spring flowering shrubs, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, shouldn't be pruned until after they bloom.
When you prune, remove old flower heads and prune for shape and size. Cut off dead or crossed branches and any that grow at odd angles from the trunk.
Time to Plant
As soon as perennials show up in the nurseries, you can plant them outside. Inspect them for insects or fungus. Dig a hole or trough to the proper depth and, once the plant is in the ground, keep the soil moist for several days or longer.
Annuals can be planted now, too. Choose them for healthy looking foliage rather than lots of blooms. Put them in the ground to the depth of the pots they come in and keep them moist until they are established.
Both perennial and annual beds should be mulched to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and keep weeds at bay.
Get to Know Your Garden
The more time you spend in your garden, the better you will know it. The garden is an organic body. It changes and evolves as the weeks, months, and years go by.
To get a good start on it, don't let the spring -even damp, gray, cool days - go by without tending it. You'll be rewarded. Well-cared-for gardens never let you down!