This Checklist Will Help You Prepare Your Garden for Spring

Make way for budding blooms by clearing out spent plants and leaves and starting your seeds on time.

man starting seeds indoors
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Spring will be here before you know it and while it's tempting to wait for temperatures to rise to get your hands dirty, the important work in your garden starts much sooner. Preparing your garden for spring seed sowing and re-emerging perennials will ensure your plants thrive once April hits. Whether you're beginning your garden from scratch or revamping a mature plot, there are a handful of gardening chores to add to your checklist before spring arrives.

1. Know Your Gardening Zone

Research should be the first task on your list. "Before you start digging in your garden, make sure that it's the appropriate time to do so based on your agricultural zone," says gardening expert Molly E. Williams. "If the ground is still frozen and there's still a threat of frost, you'll mostly be wasting your time." The zones correlate to your geographical location and will not only inform when to plant, but also what to plant as certain crops only thrive in certain zones.

2. Purchase and Start Seeds

Buying your seeds before spring arrives will give you ample time to plan, which is key when it comes to successfully planting them. "Every seed has different germination requirements. Some need to be started indoors while others will need to be direct seeded," says Williams. "If you have a lot of planning to do, make yourself a calendar that highlights what needs to be started or planted when."

abundant spring flower garden with clean flower beds
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3. Clean Your Garden Beds

During fall and winter, it's likely your garden beds filled up with fallen leaves, debris, and weeds. Clean them out before spring to make way for the new. "Not only is it important to remove weeds from the garden, but it is really important to remove them before they go to seed," says Adrienne Roethling, garden director for Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden. "If left unattended, dispersed seeds will lie dormant until conditions are favorable for germination. In some cases, more aggressive weeds will smother desired plants."

Also remove dead material from plants like hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, woody perennials, and more. "In some cases, woody perennials may re-emerge from the stems or the roots depending on the severity of the winter," says Roethling. "It's always best to scratch a small section of woody stems to look for green. Hydrangeas are in the same situation."

4. Prepare Your Soil

There are a few things you should do to prepare your soil for spring. It's likely your soil became compacted during the cold weather, so the first step is to till or turn it over until the soil is workable. Next, conduct a soil test to ensure the pH level is suitable for your plants. "Once results come in, apply your fertilizers and soil amendments based on the results in spring," says Roethling. For example, if your soil is too acidic, you may need to add a compost mix or other less acidic materials to correct the pH levels.

laying down mulch in flower garden
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5. Lay Down Mulch

Mulch can be applied during various times throughout the year, but just before spring is a great time to do so. "I would suggest to begin mulching in late winter," says Roethling. "For one, you avoid risking stepping on newly emerging bulbs and herbaceous plants." Additionally, getting a head start on mulching may help prevent unwanted weeds from germinating. When choosing mulch for your garden, look for ground mulch as it is better nutrient wise and will break down nicely. "Other mulches, such as chips or pine straw, do not break down and may not contribute to improve soils," says Roethling.

woman prunes rose bush in flower garden

6. Prune Plants

It's smart to prune certain plants prior to spring—especially if you want to limit a variety's seed dispersal. "Pruning can be done to manage plant size, encourage flowering and fruiting, improve bark color, and remove diseased, damaged, or rubbing branches," says Melinda Myers, gardening expert and host of the Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series. "Summer flowering shrubs can be pruned during the dormant season as their flower buds develop on new growth." It's best to wait to prune spring flowering shrubs, though, as you may reduce or perhaps eliminate their seasonal floral display.

7. Divide Perennials

If you have any plants that have diminished in quality over the past few growing seasons—their growth has stunted, they have a dead center, or they flop more than usual—consider dividing them before spring. Use a spading fork to lift these plants out of the ground, which will help loosen the root ball. Cut three to four sections off the plant and place it back in the ground. "You can plant them in the same area, into other areas of the yard, or share with a friend," says Roethling.

Tools hanging on wall of garden shed

8. Check Your Gardening Tools

Don't wait until spring to realize you're missing an essential gardening tool—take stock of your inventory at the end of winter. Note which tools you're missing, which need to be cleaned, and which need to be sharpened. "Truth is, plant diseases and bacteria are quick to spread and often spread on garden tools," says Roethling. "One should be cleaning their tools at least monthly."

Key gardening essentials to invest in include a garden trowel for digging holes and trenches, a cultivator for loosening the soil, and a trowel for planting bulbs. If you don't already have them, sharpening tools are also an important addition to your gardening supplies. "Sharpening stones, handheld sharpeners, steel wool, sand, and lubricating oil are all ideal," says Roethling.

Updated by Caitlin Brown
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