Spring Gardening Basics
Some consider gardening as a daunting task while others look forward to the opportunity to work in the yard. There are always challenges, even for experienced gardeners, but whether it’s vegetable gardening or a landscape garden project, to many it’s the most rewarding time anyone can image doing. Before even starting a project, we must consider such questions as location, what and where to plant, and is this something we can plant from seed or is it an item that must be purchased in plant form. These are just a few decisions that you must contend with and it’s what makes gardening fun, decisions that allow you to create a project that is yours and for you as well as others to enjoy. So you decided there were a few items that perhaps was an error in judgment, don’t fret about it, even professionals make mistakes, but you can chalk it up as a learning experience and enjoy the good things that you did. If you’re really having a problem, don’t hesitate to contact a nursery professional and get their input to your problem. Keep in mind that they make mistakes also, so it’s sometime an advantage to get the advice from more than one person.
There are so many projects to do each spring it’s hard to choose a place to start, but let’s begin with a little basic cleanup. The first thing that most landscapers do is cleanup. Start by pruning most shrubs and trees prior to the buds swelling and leaves form (large trees should be performed by a professional tree trimmer). Depending on your location, but here in the Treasure Valley of Idaho, that would be around mid-February to mid-March. However there are certainly a few shrubs such as forsythia and lilac that definitely should not be pruned yet. It’s not that you’re going to harm the plant, but doing so will remove blooms. Prune these plants after their blooming cycle. Other plants only bloom on new growth, plants such as butterfly bush, lavender, and blue mist spiraea. So knowing some plants won’t bloom well if at all should tell us that with those plants, pruning is essential. Pruning these shrubs not only encourages new growth, but allows you to remove winter damage. When is the best time to trim these plants? Usually about the time you see new growth at the base of the plant. Next, if you haven’t already done so, remove any dead annual plants and cleanup perennials by trimming the top growth. This should occur as you begin to see new growth coming from the soil surface. It may be that you need to divide some perennials and spring is an opportune time to do so.
Early spring is ideal for planting bare-root trees, shrubs, and perennials such as daylilies, strawberries, grapes, and raspberries. Spring is also a great time to plant container grown plants, before the hot summer months occur. Again, there is no harm in planting during the hot summer months, it just takes a little more effort to maintain them. Watering and fertilizing is extremely important to all plants! If you really want (and should) plant them correctly, read our heading labeled “Planting Instructions.”
Bed cleanup is critical. For one thing, a clean landscape or vegetable bed signals the beginning of spring for many of us. Working in a good soil conditioner in the vegetable garden when the weather allows will yield dividends all summer long. There is certainly a huge difference between soil conditioners. Some are little more than a bag of finely ground bark. We recommend and use Happy Frog Soil Conditioner by Foxfarm! It’s simply the finest soil conditioner we have ever found on the market. It has been manufactured by a small, family-owned business for several years and quality, not quantity has always been there goal. They may appear to be a little pricier than the box-store soil conditioners, but that’s only true if you ignore the real value in their products. Having said this, if you’re into composting, we would certainly recommend doing so. Spring cleanup affords us the opportunity to compost leaves, grass clippings, and other debris found around the garden. You can even add kitchen scraps into the compost bin. To start a compost pile, we recommend using equal amounts of leaves and debris you raked up in the garden and include green grass clippings and weeds. It’s important to turn the compost pile about once a week if possible. One thing we recommend avoiding is tree trimmings. They just take too long to compost. A lot of gardeners use a “compost maker” in their compost pile. We personally use Natural Guard ‘Soil Activator’ in our compost pile which often contains the same humates found in “compost maker.”
Performing basic maintenance is important. Check to make sure that any stone pavers have not heaved from winter freezing and thawing. Check fence posts, rails and fencing material for rotting. Inspect the sprinkler system for any leaks and repair as necessary. This typically involves turning on the system. Turning the sprinkler system off in the fall should be done with a professional that has a pull-behind compressor, but spring turn-on is a couple of simple steps that a gardener can do himself.
Once the landscape beds are clean, it’s advisable to install a fresh layer of bark mulch. This will do several things. One, it helps control weed growth and two, it helps retain moisture. That’s in addition to providing a fresh, clean look to your landscape.
Do you have a bird feeder, a birdbath or a fountain? Spring is a great time to disinfect bird and squirrel feeders. Bring the feeders inside and clean with a mild bleach solution and let them dry thoroughly before returning them to the outdoors. They should be cleaned several times throughout the spring, summer and fall. We clean most fountains and birdbaths with a power washer and recommend you do so if you have one available.
No doubt there are many important chores to perform in the spring; however fertilizing is among the “Most Important” group of chores that should be done. We actually start our first application in late January to early February. The first application goes on heavy and then we fertilize lightly for the next few months. Because of our alkaline soils, we use Hi-Yield ‘IronPlus’ as this product lowers the alkalinity of the soil as well as providing a rich, dark green color to the lawn and landscape. Our third application (we use three products each spring and put them all on at the same time) is Natural Guard ‘Soil Activator’. Natural Guard ‘Soil Activator’ contains humates which are living microorganisms that are necessary for any living plant!
Late spring is the ideal time to plant vegetables such as onions, radishes, potatoes, artichokes and carrots. Some vegetables can be started from seed and typically would be started about 30 days prior to setting outdoors. This however will depend on how well you take care of them inside. Water, heat, light, type of plant and other conditions will affect the overall growth and performance of a plant. We have a planting guide available, but you can also check the back of a package for ideal growing conditions of most plants.