Spring Garden Do's and Don'ts

By Jeff Rugg

March 9, 2016 4 min read

The weather forecasters said there would be two different storms and lots of snow this March, but spring arrived in large dusty blows instead. March is the official start of spring, but spring doesn't start for me until the local native trees' leaves start falling out, and that is still a few weeks away. Not to fear: There are still plenty of things to do in my garden until then. I take advantage of warm days to get done as much as possible.

I try not to suffer too much from gardener's early spring disease, where gardeners are afflicted with a great sense of urgency and try to do too much as soon as the spring sun arrives. Try to relax and not plant every inch of the garden in one weekend. There are plenty of warm days on the horizon — you don't have to fill every minute of the early ones with work. Relax and smell springtime in the air.

As my regular readers know, I recommend taking pictures of your landscape every month of the year so you can see the progress and identify what changes you would like to make this summer, when the spring bulbs are dormant. You will also be able to plan a better garden next winter, if you have pictures of all four seasons when the catalogues arrive.

Clean up last year's dead leaves that have fallen on your bed covers. Cut back plants in the ground cover if they need to be revived from the harsh winter weather. Pick up any sticks that have fallen out of the trees over winter. Remember to pull weeds while they are small — it's much less work.

Early spring is an excellent time to plant bare root plants. Buy these trees and shrubs in large containers or balled and wrapped in burlap. Spring is a good time to transplant dormant plants. Many stores carry dormant bare root roses — now is the time to plant them.

Begin by uncovering and fertilizing roses and perennials. Plant a cutting flower garden in the unused side yard. This will lower your overall maintenance since the side yard is out of plain sight and you won't have to mow that area.

Cut off the flower stalk when the spring bulbs quit blooming, but don't cut any leaves until they turn yellow. Do not braid or twist the leaves into bundles because the leaves produce food that the bulbs need to survive until next spring. Bulbs that do not produce much food grow to be smaller and won't bloom. Fertilize the bulbs when they are starting to bloom. Use plant markers to label the bulbs while they are blooming so you can be move or split them later when they're dormant.

You can still prune a shade tree's wayward branch, but don't prune spring blooming shrubs; rather, prune spring flowering shrubs a month after blooming. However, you can prune blooming shrubs to make an indoor bouquet: Prune 1/4 of the largest stems at ground level, dead wood and crossing and interior branches, or prune for shape if necessary.

Before planting annuals or garden vegetables, mix a couple of inches of organic matter into the top 6 inches of soil, but don't rototill muddy soil. Add some 5-10-5 fertilizer, following the label directions. After planting, mulch the bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

Do not begin fertilizing or mowing too early in the spring; mow the lawn often enough to only cut off 1/3 of the length of the grass blade each time. Don't use a string trimmer to mow all the grass; just use it to edge the areas. Many people who use a string trimmer end up cutting the grass down to a fraction of an inch. Scalping the grass is a sure sign that the job was done improperly, and it is unhealthy for the grass. Do not nick tree trunks or shrubs with a string trimmer — this is how many trees are killed.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Stephen Bowler

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