Photo: alexraths, depositphotos
By Sean Barker
Spring is a busy time in the garden. The fallow period of winter gives way to an explosion of life and color, as first the snowdrops appear, then the daffodils and soon the bluebells. While early spring flowers represent new life, they also signal to the gardener that it is time to clear away the winter debris and start clearing out and organizing.
Here we explore some of the best tips for making the most of your garden this spring.
The Spring Inspection and General Tidy Up
The first job in any garden in spring is to inspect its condition and to do the general tidying needed to remove the debris of winter. Your beds and borders need special attention, removing leaves and other detritus. Your tidy up should also include cutting back old dead growth of deciduous grasses and herbaceous perennials. Put materials into your composter, except the weeds. If you try to compost weeds with maturing seeds, you will be creating problems for yourself later as you spread their seeds throughout your compost.
Be sure that the temperature is consistently above 50 °F (10 °C) before removing these materials. Removing it before this time may prematurely halt the hibernation of insects and other small beneficial garden inhabitants.
Clearing the borders so you are back to bare soil prepares the way for the digging and turning required and the application of compost or recycled green waste.
Address Any Hardscaping First
There will be a period of early spring when the ground is liable to freeze and cannot be worked. Therefore, you can spend these earlier months attending to the hardscaping tasks you have planned.
During your inspection, you might have noted damage to retaining walls; your stepping-stones might be uneven, your fences might need some maintenance and more. While plants are still dormant and overwintering wildlife is hibernating, this is the best area in which to spend your time.
You can also use this time to put up a trellis and drive in stakes, especially if the ground is wet rather than frozen. Installing a peony ring will be easiest to do now, too, as it is tough work when the leaves have unfurled.
Prune Woody Shrubs
For some kinds of woody shrubs and trees, spring is the best time to get your pruners out. Research carefully which varieties enjoy a spring trim before starting. The general rule is that any flowering shrub that blooms on new wood, or this year’s growth, is suitable for pruning in spring. Spring is not the time to prune early flowering shrubs that bloom from old wood, such as azalea, lilac, ninebark and forsythia.
You can get started by pruning away anything that has been broken or damaged during winter. You are looking for ice damage, as well as any cracks or splits caused by the wind. You should remove all dead wood too at this time.
Spring is also a good time to shear back your evergreen borders.
Divide Perennials and Transplant Bulbs
Early spring will be marked by perennials and shrubs beginning to pop up. Now is the time to divide and transplant any that have outgrown their space or are too large for the design of your garden and need control. If you have been closely monitoring your perennials, you will want to divide them in the opposite season to when they bloom, which avoids disrupting their bloom cycle.
Move evergreen shrubs before their new growth appears to give them time to re-establish their roots. Deciduous shrubs are more forgiving and can be moved anytime they are not in bloom.
Sow Your Seeds
You might want to start sowing your seeds indoors in trays. Geraniums, begonias, snapdragons, peppers and eggplants (aubergines) all have a long growing season, so these should be sowed in February or March in most climates.
Remove Hibernating Pests
Before the temperature rises, go around your garden hunting the pests that will cause you so many problems later in spring and summer. Look at the crowns of perennial plants and look for slugs, snails, and aphid colonies that are overwintering.
If you have summer bedding pots, check for vine weevil larvae, small white grubs that live in the soil and feed on plant roots.
Install Water Barrels
Spring is a wet season, and nature knows new life needs a drink, so it provides plentiful rainfall. It is a great time to collect rainwater for the summer months. Using a water barrel will reduce the need for water companies to resort to groundwater reserves and rivers in the summer, which is harmful to the local ecosystem. While harvesting rainwater is essential for helping the environment, it is also better for your garden. Many plants do much better watered from your barrel than with tap water, often slightly alkaline.
Position your barrel under a downpipe on your home or shed. Most newly built homes have a closed drainpipe and you will need a diverter kit to siphon off the water into your barrel.
Plant Your Summer Bulbs
Spring is not only the time for clearing out; it is also a time for planning. It is not too late to browse for new varieties to plant, and you can enjoy some catalogue browsing with your early morning coffee. Yet, you have probably bought some bulbs in early winter in preparation for this time, especially lilies, dahlias and gladioli. When soil warms and dries up a bit is the time to prepare it and plant your bulbs.
When planting your bulbs, be sure to match the variety to the soil type. The soil for nearly all bulbs needs to be well drained, as a bulb will rot in waterlogged soil. Remember to plant the bulb with the point facing up and, where there is no point, new sprouts usually indicate which side should be on the top.
A Busy Time
Spring is the season for heavy lifting in the garden. The work you do now will bear fruit in the summer months, and gardens always deliver on the effort committed to them.
About the Author
This article was written by Sean Barker, the MD of First Tunnels—who are one of the UK’s leading suppliers off domestic and commercial polytunnels.