Top 5 Spring Gardening Chores

Get off to a great gardening year by finishing these tasks early

With spring comes spring gardening chores. Put down your gardening catalogs, slip on your gardening gloves and boots, and head out the back door. Time spent outdoors tending to the following top five gardening chores will get your garden off to a great start this year.

1)   Clean up your garden tools.

Find your garden tools that you have stored in the shed, garage, or basement and knock off any dirt with a stiff scrub brush or a wire brush. Remove any rust. Give them a good wipe down with some disposable bleach wipes to ensure you will not be transmitting any lingering plant diseases. Lubricate any tool joints or moving parts, and sharpen the blades of any cutting tools. Your hands will get tired very quickly if you are cutting with dull pruners, and you won’t be able to achieve a clean cut. Many tools come with sharpening stones. If you don’t want to expend the effort sharpening your pruner’s blades, buy replacements so you will be ready to go. One of the most useful tools in the garden is your wheelbarrow; it helps you move plants, dirt, mulch, and compost while taking the load off of your back. Make sure the wheel(s) are properly inflated. Lubricate around each wheel’s axis to ensure a smooth ride.   

2)  Clean birdhouses, birdfeeders, and birdbaths

Clean out and inspect all your birdhouses so that they will be ready when the birds return. Get rid of any nests from last season. Clean and inspect your birdfeeders and fill them with fresh seed. Give birdbaths a good scrubbing and refill with water. A better long-term solution to attract and support more birds in your yard is to plant additional native trees. Native trees will provide both nourishment and a place to nest for your avian visitors. A few native trees that are very useful to birds in the Piedmont area are Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis), Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and deciduous Holly (Ilex verticillata). Put these trees on your list to consider planting this coming Fall.

Janene Cullen
Virginia Bluebells

3)    Evaluate your yard and garden beds.

Take a long, slow stroll around your yard. The winters in northern Virginia can be tough on plants. Harsh winds, freezing rain, snow, and ice can cause damage to tree and shrub branches and can cause the soil to lift, exposing plant roots. If roots are exposed, these plants will soon dry out, so use your garden boot to gently press the lifted part of the plant back into the ground. Check to see if any of your raised beds or vegetable beds need repair. Cleaning up the garden beds and doing repairs now will leave you ready to plant as soon as the weather is a bit warmer. In the flower beds, clip away any dead annuals and pull weeds that have managed to survive the winter. Sometimes on a warm day there is a temptation to start removing winter mulches and leaves from your flower beds. Resist this temptation until you clearly see signs of new growth. Winter mulch and leaves are protection from sudden changes of temperature and chilling winds; they also block weed growth and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. Acclimatize your plants by removing the mulch over a period of weeks, allowing the light and air to reach the new growth slowly. It is much better to remove it a little too late than too early.

This is also a good time to make a garden map; do a quick sketch of where your early spring flowers are. Use plant markers if you are really organized. Many spring flowers are short-lived, and when you start planting in the fall you may forget where the spring flowers came up this year. Decide what else you want to plant this year and where it will go. If you do add more flowers this year, remember to plant shorter plants in front of taller ones so they all get plenty of delightful summer sun.

4)    Divide perennials.

If you have perennials that are getting too big or too crowded, spring is a great time to dig them up and divide them. A few of the plants that we usually divide in the Piedmont region are Hosta, Sedum, Aster, Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Tickseed (Coreopsis). Wait until you see the start of new growth before you begin dividing. Start digging at the summertime drip line of the leaves and move around in a circle. Lift out the plant and divide into four quarters. Plant the new sections of perennials right away to avoid the roots drying out. Include compost in the holes for the new sections of perennials so the new plant roots will have the advantage of loose, fertile soil. If you don’t have any more space in your yard, sharing plants is a great way to make friends with your neighbors.  

5)    Spring pruning.

As mentioned previously, northern Virginia winter wind, snow and ice can damage shrub and tree branches. Prune back any branches that are dead or damaged. Always prune back to a branch collar or a bud. Eliminate any crossing branches, or branches growing in towards the center of the tree. If you are unsure how to effectively prune, your local VA Extension office offers classes on pruning at least once year. You may also want to prune to control the plant shape and size. Virginia Tech offers free publications for pruning calendars (shrubs and trees) on their website. Check these publications before you get near your favorite tree with pruners.

Harriet Carter
Solomon Seal

Cut back ornamental grasses. The tops were interesting and beautiful through winter, they protected the crowns and gave winter birds a place to perch. Now it is time to make way for new growth. Get your newly-sharpened hedge shears out and cut the grasses back to about a foot off the ground. Prune the spring bloomers, like forsythia and rhododendrons, as needed after flowering is complete.

If you get these five chores completed this month, you will be off to a good start. If you are feeling motivated, two bonus tasks you can accomplish are to feed your soil and to plant cool weather seeds.

Compost is like dessert for your lawn and planting beds, it is the best natural soil amendment. Add about a quarter inch of compost everywhere. You can buy compost from your local garden store, or better yet, make it yourself from your own kitchen scraps.

If your ground is dry enough, you can start to plant your spring cool weather vegetables. Seeds are a lot less expensive than plants. Spring vegetables to consider are radishes, spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and peas.

The absolute most important thing to do is to stop and enjoy the beauty of spring!  Delight in the signs of new growth. Appreciate the slightly warmer temperature and the slightly longer days. Focus on the thought that winter has passed and the delightful summer flowers will soon be on the rise.

To get more information or answers on any gardening issues, please call or contact the Prince William Master Gardeners at 703-792-7747 or email master_gardener@pwcgov.org. They also offer gardening classes and lectures which are usually free to the public. You can also sign up for updates on classes at www.pwcgov.org/GROW. Visit www.ext.vt.edu to receive free lawn, landscape & gardening information.

Janene Cullen, PhD
About Janene Cullen, PhD 1 Article
Janene Cullen has lived in Haymarket for 16 years. As a retired military officer, this is the longest she has ever lived in one location. She works full time for the Aerospace Corporation as a satellite engineer. She has been a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer since 2006 and volunteers with the Master Gardeners of Prince William.

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