Early Spring Chores Make Summer Gardening Tasks Easy
Here's the basic plan I use to spruce up my garden every year starting in early spring.
In my USDA growing region (5, Vermont), the last frost date comes nearly at the end of May. But before I plant any frost-tender flowers and vegetables in the garden, there's plenty of cleanup work to do in the yard.
As soon as the snow and ice melt away and the ground thaws, I begin my garden chores. This process usually begins in early to mid-April, and continues through May.
Clean Up Winter Debris
The first spring garden tasks I tackle are the big winter cleanup activities: removing downed sticks and twigs, pruning shrubs or trees (except for spring bloomers), raking up or sweeping away leaves and other plant debris from the lawn, pathways and garden beds, and cleaning out surface drains and gutters. .
In early spring garden maintenance begins even if there is a bit of snow left on the ground.
Remove Weeds Before Summer Growing Begins
Next I tackle weeding chores and plant division in my flower beds. I start with the most visible gardens - the beds near the doorway, along the entry walk, and running along my driveway.
I work on one bed at a time, digging out or pulling small and mature weeds from the garden before they spread or go to seed. I also tidy up the edges of each bed by trimming the sod and removing grass creepers.
Divide and Share - Spread the Joy
The plants I divide out from the established perennial get moved to other locations, or potted up to exchange with friends, family, and neighbors. Sometimes I have so many extra rooted starts and plants I can sell them during our townwide yard sale.
Tend to the Soil and Mulch the Beds
After weeding, I cultivate the soil around each perennial or shrub gently, with a handheld tool, to loosen and aerate the dirt and fluff up the mulch. I apply organic compost and fish emulsion fertilizer then add a fresh layer of mulch to the entire garden bed.
If you don't use mulch on your gardens, simply cultivate around the plants, shrubs and bulbs and work your compost into the top layer of soil then add composted manure and apply a balanced organic fertilizer like fish emulsion.
Caring for Garden Perennials
After I finish the basic cleanup chores in all the garden beds, I take stock of perennial flowers and herbs to see which plants didn't survive the winter or suffered extensive winterkill. I make a list of replacement perennials to fill in where needed.
As the survivors and hardy plants begin to grow more vigorously, I can tell which need to be divided or lifted and replanted. I plan where to move excess plants or pot them up to share with family and friends.
I like to add new plants to the garden every year, and always try to use local stock that will thrive in my area. I buy or swap my perennials at local garden club plant sales where I know the plants have survived Vermont's cold winters and hot summers without a lot of extra care.
I use many native plants in my gardens and the best specimens I've found are the plants purchased in my area from the master gardeners at their spring and fall plant sales.
Final Tasks - Add New Plants and Prune
While checking the condition of my flower gardens I look for areas in each bed that need some color from annuals and make a shopping list. I start some annuals from seed in the house or sow others directly into the garden; others I buy as young plants at a local garden center or plant sale and add to the beds after all danger of frost has passed.
Finally, I check on trees and shrubs to see which need pruning or thinning. Some need to be pruned in early spring but others should be pruned after blooming or in the fall. Most of my shrubs need to be pruned after flowering, in late spring.
By the end of May, most of the work is finished and I can enjoy the beauty of Nature all summer long.
My garden in summer is a riot of colorful native plants that attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife.
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