12 Spring Gardening Tasks That Will Make Your Plants and Flowers Healthier

Check off these seasonal tasks to get your garden off to a vibrant start.

It's chore time! Stepping back into the garden after a long, harsh winter can be overwhelming, but it also comes with a sense of promise, as you prepare your outdoor space for a season of blooms, fragrance, and lush greenery. Spring is the time to assess damage from winter, fix tools, fill in holes in the landscape, tend to your lawn, perform essential pruning, make new beds, plant from bare-root or container-grown plants, add a layer of much, and tackle other essential tasks to prepare your outdoor space for peak growing season.

Survey Every Level of Your Yard

Evaluating your yard's layers—up high, in the middle, and down below—will ensure that you don't miss the elements that need your attention.

Top Level

First, look up. "Inspect trees and shrubs and pay special attention to high-risk trees," says Dan Johns, arborist at Davey Tree. Make note of tree limbs that should be removed or cabled, especially those that overhang structures. Look for yellowing leaves, dead branches, peeling bark, signs of pets or disease, and branches that may have cracked along dead wood during winter storms, says Johns. Consult an arborist for big jobs (or a second opinion).

Middle Level

Next, assess the mid-level. Cut down last year's perennial foliage, and toss it into the compost pile. Then, the ground plane: Rake mulch from beds planted with bulbs before foliage appears, and refresh mulch in other planting areas after soil warms.

Lower Level

Lastly, give a good once-over to all your hardscaped areas: Check fences, steps, and pathways for disrepair caused by freezing and thawing.

Prepare Your Garden Tools

garden tools hanging in shed

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Give your tools some attention so they're in good shape when it's time to work: Sharpen blades, oil metal components and handles, and disinfect shears. "Inspecting tools for any signs of wear and maintaining or replacing them if necessary is essential for safe and comfortable use," says Centurion Brand's Bill Freimuth. "[Store] them in a dry and secure location to ensure that they stay in good condition for the entirety of the gardening season, and many more to come.”

Fill in Gaps

Fill in bare spots in your garden with bright new perennials, trees, and shrubs for spring planting. "[These] offer reliable color, create structure and even privacy, [and] attract pollinators," says Johns. If you have a specific plant or flower on your wish list, connect with local extension programs or garden centers to see if it is suited to your USDA hardiness zone. Now is also the time to special order plants from your local nursery.

Tend to Your Lawn

spring lawn watered by sprinkler

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If you've got grass, spring is an important time to turn your attention to your turf.

Prepare Your Lawn Mower

Send the mower and leaf blower for servicing, or if you have the right tools, sharpen the mower blades yourself. Refill your mower with oil, install fresh spark plugs, and lubricate moving parts if necessary.

Clear your lawn of winter debris and look for areas that need reseeding before mowing for the first time this season.

Make a Watering Schedule

Plan your watering schedule, too. Johns encourages homeowners to give their lawns an inch of water every seven days, or "about 20 minutes of watering three times a week," depending on your irrigation, grass type, and local rainfall. "Water lawns early in the morning to stay hydrated throughout the day," he recommends.

Prune Shrubs

Pruning shrubs keeps them healthy and promotes new growth. Spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned as soon as they have finished blooming, says Johns, while other shrubs should be pruned in late winter to encourage spring growth. This is also the time to remove old wood to shape and improve the look of your shrubs. "Your goal is to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches that can reduce aesthetics," says Johns.

Prepare New Beds

woman digging up new flower beds

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It's entirely possible to create a new planting bed where one has not previously existed.

  1. Dig the soil, adding oxygen and relieving compaction, and then add amendments—like compost—that will jumpstart the creation of a rich, living soil, says Jessica Mercer, plant expert at Plant Addicts.
  2. Clear the planting area as soon as soil can be worked, removing sod or weeds and debris.
  3. Spread a 4-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure and any amendments over soil, and cultivate it to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spading fork.
  4. Rake it smooth before planting.

Plant from Bare-Root

Though it can be intimidating, planting from bare-root (meaning plants come to you dormant, not in a soil-filled container) takes full advantage of the best planting time for many plants, including fruit trees, roses, hostas, and daylilies. Bare-root plants have another pro, says Mercer: "The root system is often healthier because plants can't become pot-bound." For the best results, plant from bare-root on a cool and cloudy day.

Plant Container Plants

container plants ready to be planted in garden

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Whether you started this year's plants inside from seed or kept last year's alive through the winter in containers, transplanting them outdoors in the spring allows them to take root before the heat of midsummer. "Growing fun flowers and shrubs in containers is a great way to play around with plants that are not hardy in your area," says Linda Vater, plant expert for Southern Living® Plant Collection.

Some flowers, like Royal Hawaiian colocasia, Lunar Lights begonia, and Skyscraper senecio, can be planted in the ground inside their container. "Planting containers in the ground just below the surface gives them insulation that results in less watering and also makes for easy removal at the end of the season," says Vater.


Your garden is waking up, and it'll appreciate a little fuel, says Mercer. Apply a balanced fertilizer (the numbers on the container should read 6-6-6 or 8-8-8) or fish emulsion around trees and shrubs when new growth appears. Spread high-acid fertilizer and pine-needle mulch around acid-loving shrubs like azaleas, camellias, blueberries, or citrus. Begin fertilizing perennials when active growth resumes.

Start a Compost Pile

Start a compost pile, or use a compost bin, if you don't have one already. Begin by collecting plant debris and leaves raked up from the garden. Find equal amounts "brown" (carbon-rich) materials like dried leaves and straw and "green" (nitrogen-rich) materials like grass clippings and weeds. Chop these up first to speed decomposition. You can approach a new compost pile in one of two ways.

Hot Pile

A hot pile is built all at once with alternating layers of greens and browns. It's turned regularly, not added to, and provides a finished result in just a few months.

Cold Pile

A cold pile, on the other hand, is added to regularly and not turned. Finished compost takes longer to form and is usually scraped out from the bottom of the pile.

Clean Bird Feeders and Baths

bird on a bird feeder

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If you have already made yourself a welcoming spot for your local feathered friends, now is a great time to give your feeders a refresh. "As a central point where many birds will congregate, feeders are a risk of spreading diseases between birds and becoming contaminated with bacteria and fungus," says Sunny Kellner, wildlife rehabilitator and outreach specialist with Audubon Sharon in Sharon, Conn. "To be sure you are keeping your backyard birds as healthy and safe as possible, weekly feeder maintenance is essential!"

How to Clean Bird Feeders

Empty the feeders and dispose of the old food. Disinfect the feeders by scrubbing the inside, access points, and crevices with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water), says Kellner. Rinse and dry the feeders thoroughly before refilling them with fresh food.

How to Clean a Bird Bath

Scrub birdbaths with 10 percent bleach solution, then rinse them thoroughly, allow to dry, and refill, changing water weekly. Clean birdbaths and feeders regularly throughout the season. If you're new to that bird life, even a plant saucer filled with water and cleaned regularly is usually enough to draw in some new friends—"including bees, who use water to cool off, too!" says Kellner.

Add Mulch

Possibly the single easiest thing you can do from both a functional and aesthetic point of view is to give the garden a fresh layer of mulch. "Mulching conserves soil moisture, controls weeds, reduces potential damage from mowers, and provides the organic matter trees need beneath the soil surface," says Johns.

A several-inch-thick layer of your favorite mulch—wood chips, straw, or even finished compost—gives everything a clean, tidied-up look while helping to suppress weeds and retain moisture. "Be sure to not over-mulch the tree, or ''volcano' mulch," says Johns. "Keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk, or the trunk will rot.”

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