Tackle Early Spring Gardening Chores

Eager to get outside? Check out these early spring gardening chores that you can start now.
Mulching Technique

Mulching Technique

A man scoops mulch from a pile into a wheelbarrow to make transportation easier.

Do you ever get that urge to go out and do something in the garden, even though it may be too early in the year to do much? "I get a little too eager every now and then, thinking that it's okay to plant something when it isn't, or wanting to mow the lawn even though it doesn't need it," says master gardener Paul James.

That's not to say there aren't things that can be done in the off-season, especially during the few weeks before the official gardening season begins. Paul has come up with a list of things that can be done now.

Repair a Dry Stacked-Stone Wall

"I love the natural look of stones that are stacked dry, meaning that they're not actually mortared in place" Paul says. However, they do have a tendency to shift during the winter months. As a result, the border becomes a bit unsightly, not to mention dangerous, especially if kids occasionally walk on the stones.

Late winter to early spring is an ideal time to reposition stones. Sometimes minor adjustments are all that's needed; simply moving the larger stones with smaller ones can stabilize the border. It doesn't take all that much time or effort, and the payoff is worth it in terms of enhanced aesthetics and safety.

Fix Uneven Steppingstones

Even stepping stones in the lawn can become unstable due to excessive rains or heaving, caused by alternating periods of freezing and thawing. So they too should be stabilized and leveled to make them safe to walk on. To fix, this requires that you actually lift the stones and add soil or gravel beneath them. Use a level to verify that they are even with the ground.

Correct Tunnels Made by Garden Pests

Unstable stones aren't the only hazards that can lead to a sprained ankle. There are also tunnels and mounds of dirt created by moles and gophers. They too should be leveled with a metal rake and tamped firmly. The exposed soil can later be reseeded with grass seed or left as-is if your turfgrass is the type that tends to spread.

Clean Birdhouses

Inspect birdhouses to make sure they're firmly mounted. Clean their feeders, filling them with fresh seed once they dry. Give birdbaths a good scrubbing and refill with water. Last but not least, create a pile of ready-for-the-taking nesting materials to make life a little easier for our feathered friends.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs

It's not unusual for the foliage of early spring-blooming bulbs to turn brown, especially at the tips, when temperatures drop suddenly. Although the foliage may not look all that great, the bulbs themselves will be just fine and will flower pretty much on schedule.

Now is a good time to do a quick sketch of where your bulbs are. This will help when the foliage fades later in the year and you begin planting annuals and perennials in the same bed. You'll have a map of where the bulbs are and avoid destroying them as you dig.

Touch Up Mulch

This is the ideal time of year to inspect your mulch, particularly its depth. Chances are organic mulches, especially those made from shredded or chipped wood, have decomposed somewhat or have been washed away by heavy rains.

With a metal rake, fluff your mulch a bit and try to level it out over your garden beds. Along the way, use a ruler to determine the average depth of the mulch. Ideally, you want at least a 2-inch layer, and 3 to 4 inches is OK, especially for southern gardeners.

Winter Pruning Trick

If you haven't already completed pruning your deciduous trees and shrubs, there's still time. Paul has a trick that will help you select which branches to prune away and which to keep.

First, stare at the tree or shrub in question with an eye toward its desired shape. Stare at it from several different perspectives from a distance at various angles, from just a few feet away, and even looking up into its canopy.

Now, rather than doing any pruning, tie some colored ribbon or twine around each limb or branch you think you want to prune. Over the course of several days, each time you walk by the tree or shrub, at different angles and various distances, try to imagine what it will ultimately look like if you were to remove the selected limbs.

Feel free to change your mind. If you're not sure about one of the limbs you've selected, remove the ribbon or move it to another limb. Then re-evaluate your selection. Within a few days, you'll get a better feel for where you should make your pruning cuts and greatly increase your chances of success when you finally make those cuts for real.

Other Tasks to Complete

  • Clean gutters to prevent water from drowning plants below.
  • Cut back ornamental grasses to about 6 inches tall.
  • Cut back perennials almost to ground level.
  • Remove dead wood and suckers from trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous.
  • Plant dormant trees and shrubs.
  • Move dormant plants.
  • Dig and divide emerging perennials.
  • Scrub clay pots.
  • Clean tools.
  • Remove leaves from the bottom of ponds or other water features.

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