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garden flowers and rock walls in springPastiche Family Portal HomeSpring Planting Tips

When the snow finally melts in our northern climate and the daffodils start sending up green shoots in spring, I get itchy to get out in the garden and start planting. Sometimes, though, I'm ready to plant in spring before the weather is settled and the soil is prepared.

The best gardens are created with a plan, and the first part of the plan is to consider the growing conditions.

Site Index Features Gardening : Spring Landscape Advice

Start from the Ground Up: Soil Testing

If you already have a flower bed or vegetable garden area, then your soil is probably almost ready to accept new plants. If you are starting a new garden, you'll need to remove sod and stones and add compost, manure and other natural materials to build the soil - that's the main secret of a great garden.

Spring Garden Cleanup

Assuming you've got a decent garden bed, the first thing I do in spring is clean up. I remove dead plants or tops from last year's perennial plants and just tidy up the entire area. Then I add a 3 inch layer of compost and dehydrated manure to the entire bed. This top dressing goes right over the previous season's mulch.

After the soil is ready, amended and fed well for the season, it's time to add spring plants. I start some plants from seed, and I buy annual and perennial starts from local garden clubs or growers. It's important to me to only use plants that have been grown in my area using organic and sustainable methods. I like to support local growers, and I know the plants will thrive in my climate.

Boots and Ladder planter with impatiens
sunflowers gardening leehansen

Plant Selection

I choose plants not just by height and color, but also by their preferences for light, soil type and moisture.

Trying to grow a plant that loves hot sunny dry soil in a wet shady garden is just asking for failure.

I experiment each spring with new plants, and I ask the garden pros at our local extension office - the Master Gardeners - for advice and tips about the plants I buy at their spring plant sales.

Their advice is expert, and it's free ... too bad the plants aren't.

Mulch for Moisture and Weed Control

Once the plants are selected and planted, I add a fresh layer of mulch to the entire garden. I like to use pine bark or cedar bark mulch, but you can use whatever organic mulch is readily available in your area or at your garden center. I avoid using hardwood mulch because it's developed fungus problems for us in past years.

Cedar and pine mulches deter insects and molds, and so far our plants seem to prefer those natural mulches over the hardwood chips we used previously. Cocoa bean hulls are toxic to animals and probably not healthy for kids, so we don't use those.

My garden beds have been established and growing for more than 10 years, so my biggest chore in spring is usually to thin out the perennials and build the soil. The next task for spring gardening is more fun: choosing and planting container plants.

Growing Plants in Containers

We have a deck and patio plus a few small areas in our yard where we like to have plants in large pots and flower boxes. I don't plant the same flowers every year - I like to use the container gardens as little test beds. I can buy fewer plants and experiment with them for a season; if they work out then I know the following year to buy more and perhaps add some to an annual bed in the garden areas.

Many of our house plants move outside for the winter. In our Pennsylvania climate that move to the great outdoors triggers incredible growth spurts. By mid-summer we have gorgeous specimens that look like they came from a professional grower's greenhouse.

Until recently my husband insisted on moving all those now-larger and much heavier plants back into our small house for the winter. This year we're going to try to sell them at a fall yard sale, and just keep a few smaller cuttings or starts to winter over for next year's garden fun.

Water Conservation in the Garden

We use an automatic watering timer to manage the moisture needs for our vegetable garden. Because our yard is in a microclimate with plenty of soil moisture, we don't need to water most of the flower beds, even during hot summer heat waves.

Large trees shade our home and lawn areas and the natural soil moisture combined with plenty of mulch on the beds keeps the plants going even when the weather makes us wilt a bit. The plants in containers get water from a rainbarrel that captures the roof runoff near our deck.

Managing Stormwater

We have three water features in our garden: a rain garden, a French drain, and a small pond. The three are connected so they manage the water that flows into and out of our yard, and they encourage birds and other wildlife to our garden.

Our small rain garden feature captures and holds runoff from our upper yard and driveway to prevent water pollution. It recharges (gets reabsorbed) back into the soil within 24 hours, so there's no danger of mosquitoes breeding there..

Any overflow travels through a pipe system under our patio then comes out into a French drain, which meanders through the front yard to deliver water to our fish pond.


The fish were fun and kept mosquitoes out of the pond; unfortunately after 8 years a heron discovered them so now we have only frogs, turtles and toads cavorting with the birds and ducks who visit the tiny pond.

We plant native plants in the rain garden and around the pond.

The French drain area borders our lawn, so we put in succulent ground covers there.

Our spring garden plans may not be fancy, but they provide us with lots of enjoyment for little cost except for mulch and compost.

Try your hand at creating a small garden this spring, or dig up the bed and plan for next spring's garden this fall.

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