Get Ready for Spring Planting
Get Ready for Spring Planting
To get the most out of your garden each summer, you will need to be ready to implement your gardening plan the minute the ground thaws. Spring brings unpredictable weather, making timing your spring planting tricky. Start planting too early and an unexpected cold snap can kill your plants. Plant too late and your plants will not reach their full potential.
As the snow melts and temperatures begin to rise, make sure you have a plan for your summer garden. The end of winter is a good time to start a garden journal if you don't already have one. A garden journal allows you to record placement of plants, methods, successes, failures and anything else you want to remember from year to year. The journal can be as simple as a lined notebook recording brand, type, locations and dates (for plants, fertilizers, mulches, etc.) with pictures tucked between the pages, or it can be as intricate as a scrapbook. Either way, a garden journal can help you keep a schedule, remember important seasonal tasks, and reduce repeated mistakes year after year.
Once the ground is exposed, you probably want to get out in your garden and start doing something. While the ground is still partially frozen, start checking your perennial beds for frost heaving (fluctuating cold and warm temperatures can cause the soil to be disturbed and lift plants out of the soil). If you find plants that have been pushed up, replant them immediately and water them in. Checking for frost heaving is especially important when your region experiences extreme fluctuating temperatures.
Snow is the best mulch for keeping perennials and bulbs dormant. Once the snow melts and temperatures continue to fluctuate, it is important to keep an eye on your perennial beds. Keep winter mulch over perennial areas until temperatures consistently stay above freezing, or until plants start to break through the ground. If temperatures are fluctuating and no winter mulch was applied last fall, don't panic. You can still add mulch now if the ground is still frozen. This will keep the ground frozen longer and prevent plants from budding only to be killed by a cold spell.
Once the ground thaws, you can start to do more work to your garden. Among your biggest tasks will be removing winter mulch from your beds, clearing debris, pulling perennials that did not survive the winter, and cutting and pruning the perennials that did survive.
Dig out the mulch and debris that has settled on your garden beds over the past five months. Be especially careful when clearing around perennial groundcover and vines. Remove dead foliage and stems of perennials. Tall ornamental grasses need to be cut down to a few inches above the soil before new growth begins. Check for animal damage to all your plants and apply repellents and put up protective fencing if necessary.
Resist the urge to work your soil until it is thawed and moist but no longer wet. Working your soil too early will cause irreparable damage to the soil structure. When a ball of soil in your hand stays in a ball but falls apart when tapped, it has the correct moisture level for working. Add two inches of organic material to your beds and work into the top eight to twelve inches of soil.
If you can wait a couple weeks to start planting an annual bed, place clear plastic over the bed for about two weeks. This will warm the soil and facilitate the growth of weed seeds near the surface, which can easily be picked out before you plant your spring garden. You can then plant in a garden bed that will produce fewer weeds! Just be careful not to till the soil excessively after this treatment, as deep tilling will bring new weed seeds back up near the surface.
As temperatures rise, hardy bulbs you planted last fall will begin to bloom. If temperatures fluctuate or if the bulbs are placed somewhere that receives extra warmth (near the foundation of your home, for example), the bulbs might bloom too early. The flower will most likely die off, but the bulb will probably survive. Make a note in your garden journal to lay mulch when the ground freezes in fall. You can also unearth the bulbs and move them to a colder spot for next year.
Once temperatures are consistently above freezing, you can start planting, checking each plant's cold tolerance before you place it in the ground. If you grew your plants from seeds indoors, you will need to harden them off before planting them outside. Place the plants outside in a sunny area for fifteen minutes the first day, then increase by one hour per day until the plants are outside for at least eight hours a day. If you purchased your plants, they will already be hardened off by the garden center and can be planted as soon as outdoor conditions are right.
By planning your garden early and implementing each step at the right time, you can give your garden the best chance of success each year.