Early spring can be the most exciting time of the year for avid gardens, except when we actually get to start gardening of course. It marks the end of winter and the transition into the gardening season ahead. In order to get the yard and beds looking their best before the start of spring, there are a few things that need to be done.

This is a list of some things that might need attention in your garden put together by our resident horticulturist, Matt Beecroft. Our list includes general maintenance, clematis, rose, lawn, perennials, grasses and indoor care tips.

General Maintenance Tips

  • Prune back most perennials, thoroughly rake leaves & clip late summer and fall-blooming shrubs
  • Check for plants that did not survive winter and need replacing
  • When soil is moist in the spring, cutting an edge on your garden is easier
  • Always edge before mulching to avoid getting trimmings on top of your mulch
  • Spring is an excellent time to top dress your garden with compost/manure
  • It’s a great time to put out the first application of mulch
  • Remove burlap wraps when weather permits
  • Check your lawnmower and other equipment to make sure they work properly
  • Spring’s an excellent time to divide perennial roots
    • The soil is moist, few leaves to damage, root systems are full of energy & they have the entire season to recover
  • Fertilize evergreens in early to mid-April with a complete fertilizer, high in nitrogen

Caring for Roses

  • Late March is the best time for pruning, it reduces winter kill too
    • You can always prune below winter kill but if you prune too aggressive in the fall your rose may kill back too far to survive
  • Gently uncover plants from mulch or compost
  • Remove dead branches
  • Choose only the strongest canes and trim to 4-5 strong buds, the last bud should be outward-facing.

Caring for Clematis

  • Mid-April is the best time to prune many varieties of clematis
  • If unsure of the variety you can still try spring pruning
    • If your clematis flowers later or not at all then you’ll know for the future that you may want to prune in the fall
  • Cut to approximately knee height
  • This is also an appropriate time to feed clematis with a low nitrogen fertilizer such as bone meal or a sprinkle of 4-12-8

Perennials to Prune in the Spring

Caring for Grasses

  • Cut perennial grasses to within a few inches from the ground
  • Better to cut in the spring to get the good show in the late fall and through the winter

Caring for Woody Perennials

  • Pruning woody perennials reduces the chance of winter kill. Wait until after chance of hard frost!
    • Examples: Lavender, Artemesia, Buddleia & Caryopteris
  • Bonus: They bloom on new wood

Caring for Evergreen & Semi-Evergreen Perennials

  • Some perennials retain their leaves throughout the entire winter and need to be tided up in the spring.
    • Examples: Iris, Heuchera, Helleborus & Epimedium

Caring for Herbaceous Perennials

  • These perennials prefer to be cut back in the spring, the leaves and stalks protect the base of the plant and add cold tolerance
    • Examples: Astilbe, Platycodon, Lobelia, Campanula & Delphiniums
  • Some perennials, like Rudbeckia & Echinacea, provide winter food for small birds and could be left until spring
  • Some plants, like Rose Mallow (perennial hibiscus), need warm soil to grow and will not emerge until later in the season
  • Leave some of the old stems until new growth appears, otherwise, you may forget you have a plant there

Spring Lawn Care Tips

  • Lightly rake with fan rake to remove winter debris and thatch
  • If needed, top-dress with quality compost, then overseed
  • Fill any bare patches with soil and seed area by hand
    • Good seed/soil contact is important but never bury your grass seed
  • Use a fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen, a single application should last into the summer (9-10 weeks)

Consider Using Dormant Oil

  • Oil controls many overwintering insects by smothering them
  • Oil should be applied when temperatures are cool and before buds swell
  • Addition of sulphur will help reduce chances of rust, mildew and black spot through the growing season
  • Euonymus and Mugo Pine are particularly attractive to scale and strongly benefit from an application of dormant oil
  • Read label well before use as some plants react poorly to oil

Other Helpful Tips for Spring Clean Up and Prep

  • Native trees drop leaves sooner in fall, making clean-up easier and more likely
  • They also leaf out later, allowing the sun to reach the understory in spring, warming soil & benefiting low growing plants
  • Always start a fresh compost pile each spring, flip & use the old pile to top-dress gardens
  • Great time to start forcing canna lilies indoors. Repot using potting soil & water gradually to get a jump start
  • Prune tropical plants to encourage bushiness (if overwintered with us, don’t worry, they’ll have been pruned)
    • Examples: Hibiscus, Lantana, Bougainvillea & Brugmansia
    • Do not prune oleander at this time
  • Delaying a spring pruning will result in a delay in flowering