Have you neglected your garden over the winter? I am pretty sure you have! Most of us tend to ignore our outside space when temperatures begin to plummet. But as temperatures warm up and the garden awakens, it is time to get outside and tackle those important spring gardening maintenance tasks that will ensure you have a healthy, thriving garden. Your plants will thank you!
Here is a suggested “To Do” list of things you can check off right now in your garden:
Start a Garden Journal
Experienced gardeners understand the importance of keeping good records of what is happening in their gardens each season. Your garden journal can be as simple or as detailed as you want it to be. Here are a few suggestions for what to include in a journal:
- Calendar of monthly gardening tasks
- Plant inventory of what is in your garden and where it is located
- Design drawings of your existing landscape and design ideas for future projects
- Photographic history of how your garden is changing
- Receipts for purchases to keep track of what you are spending each year
- List of gardening resources – extension office, favorite nurseries and other garden vendors
Get a Soil Test
You planting beds and turf may be lacking much-needed nutrients for healthy growth. If you have never had a soil analysis done, or if it has been a couple years since your last test, now is the time to do it! Take a few small soil samples from each defined area in your landscape (flower beds, lawn and vegetable garden) and place samples in a clear plastic bag. Label which area the sample represents. Bring the bags to the Fayette County Extension Office. For a small fee, the samples will be analyzed and you will receive a detailed printout of what nutrients are lacking in your soil and how to correct the problem. Since much of our local soil is acidic, lime and other trace nutrients may be recommended.
Start a Compost Pile
Compost is the end product of organic materials (plants and vegetables) that have decomposed to produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Benefits of composting include, improving soil structure, texture, water retention and aeration. The basic ingredients to make compost include grass clippings, dried leaves, shredded branches, flowers, sawdust, coffee grinds, tea bags, paper, fruit and vegetable scraps. Ingredients are usually considered “brown” matter – dried leaves, wood chips and needles or “green” matter – grass clippings and vegetable scraps. Brown materials provide carbon to the compost pile and green materials provide nitrogen. To avoid attracting rodents, refrain from using meat, egg or oil products in your pile.
You can start by just piling up organic materials in an out-of-the-way place in your yard and let it compost over time. If you want to speed up the process, alternate layers of brown and green materials in an area about 4 feet square. 2/3 of your pile should consist of brown materials and about 1/3 of green materials. Add a small amount of existing soil or compost to these layers to add microorganisms and get your pile “started.” Microbes need oxygen, so the next step is to aerate or turn the pile every few weeks for good air flow. Add water to keep the pile moist but not soggy. Following these procedures, you should soon see your compost pile heating up and decomposing.
Groom Your Planting Beds
Rake out debris, sticks and old leaves that have accumulated over the winter and add them to your compost pile. Then, rake back any existing mulch around your plants and top dress with compost. (You can buy bags or truckloads of compost at many plant nurseries). Nutrients from compost, added to the top of your beds, will work its way down into the soil over time. Mulch the bed with 2-3 inches of fresh pine bark, pine straw or hardwood mulch. Mulching now will deter future weeds and protect your plants from the long hot summer by helping to retain moisture.
Give Your Plants Some Attention
Divide and replant any clumping perennials, like hosta and daylily, so they have more room to grow, and, as side benefit, you get more plants to add to your beds or share with a friend! Use your lawnmower to trim back liriope (monkey grass) and mondo grass to encourage new spring growth. Cut out the old, ragged leaves of hellebores (Lenten rose) so new growth can emerge. Discard any faded blooms from fall and winter-blooming camellias to prevent future disease issues. Fertilize your shrubs and trees, using a slow release fertilizer. Begin monitoring plants for possible insect and disease problems such as infestations of spider mites, aphids or lace bugs and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.
Prune Your Shrubs and Trees
Right now is a good time to invest in some pruning tools! The short-lived snow and hard freeze we experienced in December and January did cause some damage to trees and shrubs, particularly to lateral branches of trees. Take a look around your yard for broken tree branches. Prune out all damaged or diseased branches from shrubs and trees. Prune roses no later than the end of March to encourage spring growth. Prune hollies, boxwoods and other evergreen shrubs that need to be shaped, cut back or opened up. Overgrown evergreen shrubs can be cut back to 18” above the ground. Wait to prune healthy branches of spring and summer flowering shrubs (azaleas, hydrangea) until after they bloom or you will cut off the buds. For information on correct pruning methods, go to: extension.uga.edu/publications and search for “Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape.”
Give Your Lawn Some Love
Do you know what type of turfgrass you have and what each type requires? You can find specific care instructions on each turf type by going to: extension.uga.edu/publications and doing a search for “Turfgrass.” Use the soil test you just got back from the extension office to determine what nutrients you need to add to your lawn. If results indicate the need for lime, go ahead and spread it now because it takes several weeks for the benefits of lime to take effect. You need about 40 lb. per 1000 square feet of lawn. Use a pre-emergent (weed preventer) in March to stop summer weeds in Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede turf. Do core aeration on turf as grass begins to actively grow to loosen compacted soil and get oxygen to the roots. Fertilize turf in late spring as it begins to green up.
Add some new plants with pizzazz!
Early spring is a great time to add shrubs and trees. If you love hydrangeas, there is a new 2018 series of stunning blooms from the Seaside Serenade® collection. Look for ‘Cape Lookout,’ with large, long-lasting blooms that start out light green, turn to brilliant white, then fade to pale pink. ‘Hatteras’ is a compact, vibrant ruby-red mophead, whose color is not affected by soil pH. ‘Outerbanks’ is a lacecap hydrangea whose color is blue or pink, depending on soil pH.
Make sure the planting hole is 2-3 sizes larger than the pot the plant comes in. Fertilize with slow-release fertilizer. If you are planting individual plants and not planting a whole bed, break up the existing soil and add your plant. You don’t need to add soil amendments to an individual hole. If you are planting a whole bed, add soil amendments, compost and mix in well with native soil. Water well and water often until plants are established. Wait to plant annuals and perennials until after the last frost date ( around April 15). Don’t forget to add edible plants – blueberry and raspberry bushes and herbs make great editions to the garden.
Now get outside and start checking off your list!