The early days of spring are a busy time for gardeners. Before the rush begins to plant seeds and pot up annuals, it’s a good idea to check some basic maintenance tasks off your list.
Did you mean to thoroughly clean your gardening tools before putting them to bed for the winter, and instead ended up pushing everything into the shed or garage in a messy pile as the first snowflakes started to fall? Anybody?
Well, if you haven’t already, now is a good time to take stock of your equipment. Check to see if any repairs are necessary, and clean tools, remove any dirt, and sharpen the blades.
Once the ground has thawed and temperatures allow it, clean up the leaves and dead plant material that have gathered in beds. Remove debris that has blown up against hedges, under shrubbery, and along the side of the house.
Using your hands or a rake, tidy up the area around your plants, as decaying organic material, in addition to being unsightly, can harbor fungus and diseases that we don’t want lingering in the garden as the season progresses.
Remove any winter protection from the yard now as well – wind screens, old mulch and burlap wrap. It is best to tackle this project when conditions are dry to avoid compacting wet, mucky soil by walking on it – your plants will thank you later.
Late winter or early spring are also good times for pruning any shrubs that aren’t spring-flowering. (Hold off on pruning these: lilacs, forsythia, rhododendron, etc., until after they have flowered, so you can enjoy their blooms.) Pruning in spring encourages new growth, and it’s often easier to give shrubs the shape you want and see any dead or diseased branches that need to be removed before the leaves fill out.
Unpopular as this advice may be, spring is a great time to start pulling up weeds as well, before they have a chance to get too established, (i.e. take over everything in their mad quest for world domination). It can be easy to identify weeds in spring before the rest of your perennials have filled in, and before the weeds’ root systems have grown too extensive.
This is a good time to edge your beds and remove any unwanted grass too, before it spreads even farther into the perennial or veggie patch.
Now you’re ready for another growing season!
Sarah Marcheschi is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.