Spring Gardening Checklist

Tackle spring garden prep with confidence. Use our tips to craft your own checklist.

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Revive Garden Decor

In cold winter zones, kick off the garden season by taking decorative items out of winter storage and replacing them in planting beds. Gazing balls, colorful glass stakes, wind chimes, whirligigs and other décor can add color to the garden before plants are doing much more than sprouting. In warm zones, clean up garden décor to remove last year’s dirt.

Plant Summer Bulbs

Get warm-weather bulbs, like dahlias, off to a solid start by planting them in pots before the ground is warm enough for planting. In the coldest areas, you might want to start bulbs indoors. In many regions, you can give bulbs a head start on the season by sprouting them in black nursery pots set on a sunny patio or driveway—somewhere that solid surfaces can retain heat and help warm soil.

Add Compost to Beds

Some perennial crops, like roses, clematis, bramble berries and delphinium benefit from an early spring topdressing of compost. Apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer around the base of plants. Take care not to bury any new sprouts. If possible, apply compost before rain, which will help settle it into place.

Hook Up Hose

Drag out the hose and get it hooked up for the growing season. Give it a test run to check for leaks. If you know of existing leak issues, deal with them before you need the hose. New washers can take care of leaks at most connections. Got a drip where the hose attaches to the spigot? Try wrapping plumber’s tape around the spigot before attaching the hose.

Sharpen Cutting Tools

If you didn’t tackle tool sharpening in winter, get it done before the spring pruning season starts. Sharpen blades of hand pruners and loppers. Don’t forget to sharpen mower blades, too. If your soil is rocky, your spades and shovels could probably benefit from a few passes with a file.

Clean Up Beds

Remove any leaves that accumulated in planting beds over winter. Take care when clearing beds after perennial shoots are pushing through soil. New shoots are tender and easily broken. It’s usually better to work with your hands than to use a rake—of any type.

Prune Ornamental Grasses

Tackle pruning dormant ornamental grasses before new shoots appear. Hand pruners work well on small grass clumps. For larger ones, use bungee cords to wrap the clump, then cut through it easily with electric hedge clippers. Cut micanthus clumps to a cone shape, so that the center remains higher than the edges. This helps keep the center of the clump from dying out.

Sow Lettuce Seeds

Even if beds aren’t ready for planting, you can plant pots of lettuce for early harvests. If hard frosts threaten nightly, grow them in an unheated greenhouse or in a sunny garage window. In coldest zones, place pots near the house, like on a sunny porch, for a little protection.

Fill Birdbaths

Fill birdbaths once temperatures are reliably above freezing. If chances of freezing temps still threaten, slip a basic birdbath heater into water to keep it thawed and available for birds.

Prune Fruit Trees

Tackle dormant pruning of fruit trees before buds break. Research your particular fruit trees to make sure you know what steps to take. For tree forms, you’ll prune to have an open canopy with good air flow. Beyond that, certain trees require specific pruning steps. Study a bit so you can prune with confidence.

Inspect Paths

Check stepper and flagstone paths for frost heave. Uneven stones are a tripping hazard. If soil is too wet, don’t try to reseat stones. Wait until soil dries a bit to lift stones and settle them back into place.

Clip Perennials

Remove last season’s remaining dead growth on perennials. While it’s tempting to pull dead stems away from the crown, that’s also an easy way to yank the entire plant out of the soil, especially moist spring soil. Use pruners instead to clip stems.

Insert Stakes

Slip plant supports into place before you need them, especially with clump-forming perennials like peonies or yarrow. It’s also a good idea to add stakes to taller plants, like delphinium or hollyhock, when growth first appears.

Divide Perennials

Dig and divide late summer and fall flowering perennials in early spring. Clumps are easiest to divide when shoots are first starting to appear. Spring is also the perfect time to dig starts from perennials that bloom any time. Tackle the task when shoots start poking through soil.

Set Up Rain Barrels

Get your rain barrels in working order before spring rains arrive. Double check connections on overflow systems and spigots to ensure no leaks are present. In warmer zones, add mosquito control as soon as temperatures are warm enough for those pesky critters to appear.

Repair Structures

While planting beds are too wet or too cold to work in, take time to look over trellises, arbors, pergolas and other supports. Check hardware at joints and tighten or replace as needed. Early spring—before plants have grown tall—is a great time to paint or stain structures.

Add Mulch

Refresh mulch in planting beds as soon as soil has warmed up. Don’t add it too soon, or you risk slowing the process of soil warming. This is especially vital in coldest zones, where the ground freezes deeply.

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