The urge to garden in early spring is primal. Re-connecting with the earth is affirming, renewing, promising. Waking up the garden to a new growing season is about more than soil and seedlings...this rite of spring is a tonic to the gardener as well.
Early spring garden & yard tasks:
• clear drainage ditches
Leaves and debris gather in drainage areas over the winter. Now is the time to ensure that the spring rains will have adequate runoff. Spring seedlings do best in soil which drains well. Because vegetative growth is at a low point in early spring, this is the easiest time of year for clearing drainage ditches. And be sure to put the cleared material, usually dead leaves and small branches, into the compost. Spring compost piles are commonly short on carbon-rich materials, and every addition helps.
• repair any bowed sides to raised beds. fix trellises and fencing.
Soggy winter soil puts a strain on raised beds; sometimes a stake will rot and give way. Any bowed or leaning sides should be fixed now. Dig back the soil behind the bowed side and drive in new stakes on the inside of the sideboards with a slight inward lean. Push sideboards up to stakes and fasten well with screws or nails. If you are interested in purchasing a raised bed, we have a comprehensive selection of Raised Garden Beds available in our online store.
Trellises and fencing are also easiest to repair in early spring, with less growth to work around and fewer roots to disturb. Setting new fenceposts, however, is best done after the spring rains have had a chance to drain through the ground. If the water table is too high, post holes will fill with water as you try to dig.
• weed young spring weeds. mulch bare spots in beds.
Any weeds which appear in your garden beds will be easiest to pull now, as the roots are shallow. Covering bare spots with mulch or ground cover will minimize the emergence of new weeds. Adding mulch to a depth of 3 to 4 inches is usually sufficient. Black plastic sheeting can also be used to cover the beds before planting as a way to suppress emerging weeds. And if you flip the sheeting over once a week you may likely find slugs which have been hiding in the bed. This is a simple way to reduce the slug population in garden beds.
When adding mulch to garden beds or around the base of fruit trees, keep the mulch a few inches away from tree trunks and the crowns and stems of plants. This will help reduce rot on the stems of young plants and will protect the bark of young fruit trees.
• when it's dry enough, 'top dress' beds.
Top dress garden beds with compost or well-seasoned manure in preparation for planting. Resist the urge to dig the bed; established beds have a complex soil ecosystem which is best left undisturbed. Nutrients added from the top will work their way down into the soil.
In early spring you may find that your compost pile is wet and does not apprea to be actively composting the materias you've been adding through the winter months. If this is the case, read our article How to fix a soggy compost pile.
• early spring is the time for lime.
Soils with a pH below 6.2 will benefit from the addition of lime. Dolomite is the finest grind, and is recommended. With ground limestone it will take twice as long for plants to derive any benefit from it. Ideally, lime should be added several weeks before planting. Hydrate lime, or "quick lime", is not recommended, as it can change the soil pH so rapidly that plants may be damaged. Cover newly limed beds with plastic during heavy spring rains to prevent runoff. Soil pH can be determined by using a soil pH test kit.
• prepare your lawn for spring.
Rake the lawn to remove dead growth and winter debris. This helps bring light and air to the soil level, encouraging the grass to grow. Re-seed bare patches of lawn. Rake bare spots firmly with a metal rake before seeding. Sprinkle grass seed into a bucket of soil and spread evenly over the bare spot. Keep well-watered until seeds germinate and the new grass establishes. Pre-emergent herbicides such as corn gluten may be applied now.
• thin dead foliage of ornamental grasses and ferns. pull vegetable plant skeletons.
Once new growth begins. it becomes difficult to thin ornamentals without damaging the plant. New growth will quickly replace the culled foliage. And if you didn't get around to this last fall, pull the old tomato, squash and other plant skeletons to clear the bed for planting. Plant skeletons can be added to the compost if you are sure they do not harbor any plant disease.
Vegetables and flowers:
• plant early spring vegetables when soil is workable.
Soil is ready for gardening once it is free of ice crystals and crumbles easily. Soil that is too wet is easily compacted, reducing beneficial soil aeration. Common early spring crops are peas, spinach, lettuces and leeks. For a prolonged harvest, plant several varieties, each with a different maturation date. Follow these crops with broccoli, cabbage, radishes, kale, turnips, new potatoes and onions. Mulch early bulbs if you live in areas where freezing temperatures hang on.
• protect seedlings from hard frosts.
Early spring plantings are vulnerable to hard frost which can set in overnight. If you expect a hard frost, cover seedlings overnight with anything you have on hand - an overturned bucket or cardboard box (with a rock on top) or large flower pot, a portable garden cloche, or a cold frame. If your garden has the space, and your budget allows, astarter greenhouse is ideal for starting seedlings early in the season and protecting them from inconsistent early spring weather.
• be one step ahead of the cabbage moth.
Once the frosts are gone, the cabbage moth may appear. It lays eggs against the lower stems of brassica seedlings - cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprout, kale, cauliflower. Once the eggs hatch, the seedlings lose vigor and often die. Be prepared to protect these crops from root maggots by covering plantings with row covers or applying small pieces ofbarrier paper around the seedling stem base. Maggots are more of a problem in cool, wet soils.
• plant out daffodils, lilies, crocus, hyacinth and any other bulbs,
Early spring is the time to set out bulbs which were forced in pots or bowls in the house. Some may bloom next spring, others may take two or three years to rebuild enough food reserve to support flowering.
• divide perennials. clear and mulch perennial beds.
For easier handling try to time the division so emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Prepare new beds for perennial flowers by spreading a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure) and work in deeply. Plants growing in deep, rich soil are less likely to suffer from summer drought. Existing perennial beds can be cleared of old plant debris and mulched to prevent weed growth. Mulch should be applied around, but not over the sprouting root mass of each plant.
Stakes can also be put in the ground now for sprouting perennials such as asparagrus, which may need support for it's tall ferns later in the season in gardens exposed to wind. Be sure to set the stakes well clear of the root mass so as not to disturb emerging shoots.
Shrubs and trees:
• prune out dead or damaged branches
Prune unwanted branches of trees and shrubs after new growth has begun. Cut back any remaining dead perennial foliage from last season. Prune roses just before they start to bud out. Spring blooming trees and shrubs, however, should not be pruned in late winter; their flower buds are ready to open as temperatures warm. Azaleas, forsythia, weigela, dogwood, and other spring shrubs can be pruned.
• prune fruit trees.
Fruit tree pruning is best done in late winter or early spring. Prune well before buds begin to break into bloom or the tree may be stressed resulting in a reduced crop. Pick up and remove the pruned clippings, especially if you intend to cut the grass under the tree during summer.
• remove stakes or relax wires installed on trees planted last fall.
Allowing a little swaying of tree stems results in sturdy yet resilient plants. Thin out some branches of trees which have a history of leaf spot diseases. Pruning will improve air circulation and penetration of sunlight, which in turn can reduce the incidence of disease. Remove tree guards or burlap wraps from the trunks of young trees or shrubs. This prevents moisture buildup beneath the wrap, which can encourage rot and promote entry of diseases.
• transplant any existing shrubs you want to move before they begin to leaf out.
Soil conditions in early spring are favorable to transplants because the soil is more consistently moist, which helps new rooting to expand from the transplant zone and reach out for more nutrients. To transplant, use a spade to find the edges of the main root mass, then dig down and under to loosen the root ball. Dig the new hole several inches wider all around, and add soil amendments such as compost or organic fertilizer. Once the transplant is set in place, filling in around the sides with lightly compacted soil will promote lateral root growth.
• apply horticultural oil sprays to pear and apple trees.
Apply oil spray to pears just as the buds begin to swell and then again 10 days later to control pear psylla and pear leaf blister mite. Make a single application of oil on apple trees when a half-inch of green tissue is visible in developing buds.
• also apply oil to ornamental trees and shrubs
Apply dormant oil to trees and shrubs which have a history of aphid, scale or spider mite infestations. Destroying these pests safely with spring applications of horticultural oil will reduce your need for pesticides later in the growing season.
• inspect your pole pruner before using
Before setting foot on the orchard ladder take a few minutes to inspect the head of the pruner and the cord. If there is a failure of any parts while you are pruning, it could send you for a tumble.
Moon gardening has been passed down through many generations. "There are firm believers in moon gardening today who will not plant anything unless a favorable moon sign is indicated," says Ed Hume, one of the Pacific Northwest's favorite garden gurus and proponent of the moon's influences on gardening. The moon controls ocean tides, influences the groundwater tables beneath our feet and the movement of fluids in plants. Even continental land masses are said to rise 2 to 3 feet in elevation with the passage of the moon. Understanding the effects, and timing your gardening chores accordingly, is the basis of moon gardening. For example, the best time to turn over garden soil is during the last quarter of the moon (decreasing moon phase) because that's when the water table has dropped to its lowest point. This means there is less moisture in the soil. Taking your back into consideration, it is easier to turn soil over when there is less moisture in it!
How to garden by moon phases:
The moon moves through a complete cycle every 29 days. For moon gardening purposes, this cycle is divided into four quarters or phases. The term phase refers to the moon's apparent shape as viewed from earth during the month. To plant by the moon phases you will need an almanac or calendar as planting guide, that lists the exact time and date of the moon phases. The lunar month starts with the new moon, also called "the dark of the moon". From the new moon to the first quarter and from the first quarter to the full moon, the moon appears to grow from nothing to a crescent and then to a full circle at mid-month. This is Increasing Light-called waxing phase.
Examples of garden chores to do by waxing phase (NOTE: These are general guidelines):
Repot and groom houseplants
Sow seeds of plants that grow above ground
Graft fruit trees
Plant evergreen and deciduous trees
The decreasing or waning phases are When the moon "shrinks" from the full moon down to the new moon, it's Decreasing Light-called waning phases. . As the moon wanes during the 3rd and 4th quarters, this is a good time to prune plants, as the water table is diminishing and so less sap will flow out of the cut ends. The plants are said to orient themselves toward their roots, making this a favorable time for planting, transplanting and harvesting root crops in general. The 4th quarter is the most dormant period and is good for chores like weeding.
Examples of garden chores to do by waning phase (NOTE: These are general guidelines):
Plant crops that grow below the ground, such as potatoes, carrots
Plant biennials and perennials because they need strong roots
How is sowing, transplanting and harvesting linked to phases of the moon? One theory is that during the waxing phase of the Moon, sap is flow more strongly, filling plants with vitality and energy, favoring the planting and harvesting of crops that mature above ground.