After a long winter, the garden needs plenty of attention to get into shape for the growing season.
Using a checklist is a smart way to ensure that all repairs, maintenance, and planting is taken care of before summer arrives.
For the gardener, spring can be crazy busy and it’s easy to fall behind or overlook time-sensitive tasks, like planting or fertilizing.
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Our checklist is divided into three sections of early, mid-, and late spring to make certain everything is accomplished without stress – although the timing can vary by up to a few weeks depending on your region.
From prepping to pruning to planting, you can keep pace with budding growth so that all the elements needed for healthy soil, an attractive landscape, and vibrant plants are primed and ready for the growing season, before it starts!
Are you ready to get your hands dirty? Then let’s dig into your spring garden checklist.
Here’s what I’ll cover:
Your Spring Garden Checklist
The early spring season runs roughly from mid-March to mid-April in the Northern Hemisphere.
While the weather can often still be cold and wet, it’s time to start prepping for the summer to come, with plenty of indoor activities when you can’t get outside.
Plan for Success
Spring is a busy time in the garden with a multitude of tasks to perform ahead of the growing season.
The early part of the season is the best time to get organized so you know what needs addressing, and to ensure you’ll have plenty of time in summer to enjoy a pretty and productive landscape!
Start by reviewing your journal notes from last year, bringing forward any outstanding plans, repairs, or upgrades.
If you don’t already keep a journal, it’s a good time to start one – you’ll love how the simple practice of organizing your ideas, results, and plans improves the efficiency of your time and efforts!
A journal doesn’t need to be fancy, a simple binder will do the trick – but we found seven great options for you to consider. And remember, a handsome journal makes an ideal gift for the other gardeners in your life!
Create timelines for all your spring chores to take care of repairs and upgrades, cleaning and sharpening tools, starting seeds indoors, direct sowing outdoors, purchases, dividing perennials, maintenance, planting bulbs, and so on.
With a schedule to follow, tasks are easily spread out over the entire spring season so that each one is completed in a timely manner.
And be sure to continue your journaling practice for summer, fall, and winter to stay on top of everything.
Check Winter Damage
Once the snows, ice, and hard frosts are finished for winter, it’s time to go walkabout and check your garden for seasonal damage.
Heaved pathways or rockeries, structural damage to arbors, fences, trellises, and raised beds, or breakage to the likes of birdbaths and planters are common in the aftermath of harsh winter weather.
At the same time as checking the hardscape, look for damage to trees, shrubs, and perennials, such as broken limbs from bad weather, or foraging scars from nibbling critters like deer or rodents.
Take your garden journal and camera along to make note of the various tasks that need your attention. After surveying the landscape, prioritize your tasks for when the weather improves and time allows.
This is also a good time to clean and check the batteries in solar lights and to swap out strings of Christmas lights for garden twinklers.
Solar LED Fairy Lights
I’m daft about solar-powered lights for the garden, like this string of star-shaped LED fairy lights available at Wayfair – they’re so easy to install, with no extension cords needed!
Clean Flower, Herb, Fruit, and Vegetable Beds
As winter recedes, a general cleanup is always needed. Flower, herb, and vegetable beds, berry patches, plus planters and window boxes all benefit from a fresh start.
Cut back and remove dead or damaged plants, flower stalks and spent seed heads, and rake up and remove leaves, winter mulches, and general debris from beds and borders.
A leaf rake is the best tool for lightly cleaning surfaces without damaging tender, emerging shoots.
And a lightweight, collapsible garden cleanup bag, like this one from Garret Wade, makes the job easy.
Garden Cleanup Bag
Remove dead plant matter from containers and planters, and tidy up ornamental grasses, clumps of perennials, and woody herbs with a light grooming.
Remove overwintered weeds from flower and vegetable beds as well as containers.
Gather and clean – or discard – any items that overwintered in the garden, such as plant clips, stakes, tags, small trellises, twine, and so on.
Divide Late Flowering Perennials
Early spring is the ideal time to divide clumps of late flowering perennials like asters, hardy mums, and coneflowers. If you’re looking for more late bloomers, check out our guide to the best fall-flowering perennials.
However, spring- and summer-flowering perennials should be left alone as they respond best to fall division. If you’re new to this practice, our guide to dividing perennials has all the steps.
Feed Early Sprouters
For plants that sprout or start to emerge very early, including cool weather herbs like chives, parsley, and tarragon, fall-planted garlic, overwintered carrots, chard, or kale, rhubarb, and so on, now is a good time to top-dress with compost, leaf mold, or well-aged manure.
The new growth needs nutrients, and a fluffy top layer of compost helps to protect tender shoots from late frosts.
Spread a two-inch layer of organic matter over the root zone and work it lightly into the soil with a hand cultivator, taking care not to damage the roots.
Prune Berry Canes, Shrubs, Trees, and Vines
Early spring is when many plants break winter dormancy and it’s the best time to cut back canes, shrubs, and vines that flower in summer.
This includes shrubs such as crape myrtle, hydrangea, rose of Sharon, roses, smoke trees, and spirea, plus late clematis vines and grapes. Clear away dead, damaged, or crossed branches and prune as needed.
However, early flowering varieties like azaleas, camellias, lilacs, and rhododendrons should not be pruned in spring as this results in flower loss. Instead, spring-flowering shrubs should be cut back as soon as they finish blooming, typically in early summer before buds set.
Early spring is also a good time to top second-year raspberry and blackberry canes to manage their size and make it easier to pick the berries when they ripen.
Fruit trees are also best pruned at this time, ideally before bud break and at least two weeks after the last hard frost.
To prune fruit trees, first remove crossed branches and ones that are damaged, dead, or infected. Next, cut back the upper part of the tree by as much as one third to maximize airflow, sunlight penetration, and manage the size.
If you’d like some help with this, we have growing guides with pruning details for many fruit and nut trees, like almonds, apples, avocados, black walnuts, butternuts, dwarf citrus, macadamias, pears, plums, and even pomegranates, to name a few!
Repairs and Maintenance
As part of your repair and maintenance schedule, it’s easier to complete the following tasks while the garden still sleeps and before warm weather arrives.
- Clean, repair, oil, and sharpen tools
- Clean and repair containers, catchment saucers, planters, and window boxes
- Clean and repair birdhouses, decks, fences, flagstones, trellises, raised beds, and rockeries
- Create or expand existing raised beds
- Take stock and purchase tools and supplies as needed
- Tidy edging along beds, driveways, and paths
- Assemble structural gear such as hoops for floating row covers or trellis pieces
After the early season chores are complete, it’s time to address midseason tasks.
Temperatures start to warm up in mid-spring, generally mid-April to mid-May, depending on your region, bringing more garden duties – including some eagerly anticipated planting!
Mulch or Feed Perennials
After your beds have been given a general cleanup, overgrown clumps of plants divided, and shrubs pruned, spread a two-inch layer of mulch over the root zone of your perennials.
During the growing season, avoid deep, four- to six-inch layers which can cause damage to plants by smothering the roots. Deeper mulches are fine in winter if root zone protection is needed in freezing temperatures.
Spreading a mulch such as compost or bark gives beds a clean, uniform appearance, helps the soil to retain moisture, suppresses weeds, and adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
Mid-spring is the ideal time to spread mulch as most plants are just starting to emerge and you don’t risk disruption to new growth.
For the best value, choose mulches that provide nutrients such as hardwood bark mulch, coconut coir, compost, leaf mold, and well-rotted manure.
Mulches made of materials like shredded utility poles or wooden pallets have their place in the landscape but offer no nutritional value for your plants.
If you opt not to mulch your beds, apply a slow-release, granular fertilizer when new growth is just a few inches tall.
Apply specific feeds as needed, or use an all-purpose fertilizer with a balanced formula such as 10-10-10 (NPK). Reapply once more in mid-summer for an easy fertilizing schedule.
Plant Summer Bulbs
While spring flowering bulbs are planted in fall, most summer flowering bulbs are typically planted in mid-spring.
Once all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures start warming up, plant out varieties such as agapanthus, begonia, calla lily, canna lily, dahlia, gladiolus, and ranunculus for an abundance of late summer flowers.
Plant into humus-rich soil with a sprinkling of bone meal to support fast root growth for all summer flowering bulbs, corms, and rhizomes.
Set Out Supports
For climbing vines like honeysuckle and clematis, twining vegetables such as beans and peas, or erect perennials with top-heavy flowers like some dahlias and peonies, mid-spring is the best time to set out support systems.
Before new growth kicks into high gear, set into place and install supports such as lattices, netting, trellises, obelisks, stakes, poles, and so on.
As plants bud and grow, attach them to their supports with plant clips, twine, or garden velcro.
Sow Cool Season Vegetables
Once the weather improves enough to work the soil in vegetable beds, loosen, till, and amend it with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure.
Create furrows, hills, or trenches as needed then sow the cool season crops that enjoy warm days and cool nights.
Cool season crops include lettuce and leafy greens such as arugula, bok choy, collards, kale, mustard, spinach, and Swiss chard, plus English or snow peas.
Some root vegetables like beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips, and radishes also prefer an early planting, as do Brassica varieties like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
The seeds can be directly sown into cool soils. Spinach can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 35°F, but most cool season vegetables need soil in the range of 40 to 50°F for germination.
Start Summer Vegetables Indoors
Unless you have long summers, many annual vegetables that need hot temperatures and a long growing season are best started indoors then transplanted out when conditions are right.
This early start indoors lets you get a jump on the growing season and allows crops to fully mature before cold weather returns.
Four to eight weeks before the last frost, sow seeds in flats or trays for vegetables and fruits such as celery, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, leeks, melons, peppers, tomatoes, and winter squash.
Place trays in a warm location with temperatures of 65 to 75°F, using a bottom heating mat and/or grow lights if needed.
Remove Protective Covers
After all danger of frost has passed, remove protective winter covers to improve air circulation, keep mold in check, and prevent early bud burst as a result of warming temperatures.
Carefully remove burlap from conifers, shrubs, rose bushes, and other perennials.
Lift cloches and floating row covers from containers, planters, and vegetable beds.
Open up cold frames to start hardening off the likes of carrots, leeks, and salad greens.
Remove covers on a cloudy day to avoid shock from sudden exposure to strong sunshine.
And don’t wait too long to remove the covers – warm spring temperatures can easily become hot in an enclosed environment, causing serious damage to plants.
By late spring, the garden’s bursting with lush new growth and early flowers. But there are still some tasks to take care of before the busy summer season is underway.
Deadhead Early Flowering Bulbs
As summer draws nearer, it’s time to clean up the early flowering bulbs by deadheading spent blooms.
Deadheading prevents seeds from forming, concentrating the energy from photosynthesis into developing big, healthy bulbs to produce ample flowers next year.
Once the blooms of early bulbs like crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, snowdrops, and tulips are spent and papery, snip them off with clean, sharp garden shears a couple of inches down on the flower stem.
However, only the spent flowers should be removed. Leave the foliage in place for energy production and allow it to die back naturally – by early summer, the dry brown leaves are easy to clean up.
Direct Sow Annual Flowers, Herbs, and Summer Vegetables
During the latter part of spring, annual flowers and warm season vegetables can be sown directly into the garden.
Summer varieties need warm soil temperatures of 60°F and above to germinate, sprout, and thrive – in cool, wet soil, many annuals are prone to mold and damping off.
Once soil temperatures are warm enough, clean, till, and amend the soil in selected beds or containers then sow seeds of annual flowers and vegetables.
Include flowers such as ageratum, bachelor’s button, calendula, cleome, cosmos, marigold, nasturtium, sunflower, sweet alyssum, and zinnia.
Plus herbs and vegetables such as basil, beans, celery, coriander, corn, dill, lettuce, scallions, summer savory, and summer squash.
Late spring is also the time to transplant vegetables started indoors like cucumber, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
Sow successive plantings of early season crops such as beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, kale, onions, and spinach.
Paint or Stain Hardscape Elements
Hardscape elements made of wood or metal, such as arbors, benches, decks, fences, trellises, patios, planters, and so on are subject to weathering and require regular maintenance to keep up their good looks and for protection from the elements.
Once the weather’s warm enough – and before summer’s heat arrives – paint or stain hardscape structures.
Assemble components, sand and clean the surfaces of metal or wood structures as needed and allow them to dry thoroughly before coating surfaces.
Start the Season Strong
Once winter ends, the gardening itch strikes hard – and our spring garden checklist gets you going even before the weather warms up!
In early spring, start the season strong by using your journal to create a timeline for all your spring garden tasks. Then address maintenance like dividing perennials and pruning fruit canes before new growth gets in the way.
In mid-spring, lift protective covers and set up trellises. Then get your hands dirty by direct sowing cold weather veggies and summer bulbs, and start warm season vegetables indoors.
Late spring is the time for sowing annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables, adding a lick of paint, and tidying up the early bulbs.
After that, all that’s left is a little feeding, weeding, and watering – and plenty of time to enjoy your pretty, productive landscape!
What are some of your must-do tasks for the spring garden? Let us know in the comments section below.
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