Preparing Your Garden for Spring: 5 Tips for a Beautiful Season

By Celia Cooksey

by Celia Cooksey

With a cup of tea or coffee to warm you as you move about your yard, noticing what needs to be done and what winter has wrought does not have to feel like a chore.  As temperatures begin to rise in spring, it is time to check in on the plants in your yard, or “garden” as we’ll call it. 

If left to its own devices, your garden will soon be careening its way toward full summer bloom and beyond — nature is really good at that. You will feel more ready for what comes next, however, and you will likely enjoy the summer season much more when you’ve helped to prepare the way. Here are some tips to get your garden ready for spring.


START by taking a walk:  

As you move around your garden, one of the main things to assess is what damage the winter may have brought. After heavy ice or winds, you may have broken tree branches to deal with, and frost may have damaged leaves or branches that will need removing. 

Take notes as you walk to remind yourself of what needs doing on the next sunny weekend — or perhaps even more helpful is taking pictures as you walk, while you dictate into your Notes app of choice. Use your camera a lot, as having the images along with your notes can be helpful. Your future self, wandering the garden center, will thank you as you are better able to remember what you actually need. 


REPAIR or REPLACE things: 

As you move around your garden early in the season, you will want to take an inventory for possible future tasks: 

  • Do you have any tools that need fixing or replacing? 
  • Is the outdoor furniture still functional and sound? Are new cushions called for, if chairs or benches are part of your outdoor areas?
  • Are walkways still safe and walkable?
  • Do any water features need maintenance? 
  • Are your bird feeders in need of cleaning?


REMOVE some things:  

When your garden is still mostly asleep, so to speak, it can be hard for a less experienced gardener to know which brown things are about to burst into a riot of color, and which are about to be compost. 

Things that need removing are often mushy, when soft inner plant structures have burst after being frozen — or they are brittle, breaking easily with no green life left inside. (Please note that the top or even most of a plant may be mushy or brittle and need removing, but sometimes the roots are preparing to push out new shoots soon — so, remove less if you’re not very sure what the rest will do, as you can always take out more later, if it’s still not growing at all by summer.)

This is a much easier time to pull plants that you know to be weeds, while they’re small, and also to move plants that were in the way or weren’t quite where you wanted them to be last year.  You’ll want to remove excess leaf material, too — while being careful not to clear it out too early, as it may be protecting young plants from future chilly temperatures. 


ADD more things:  

Compost is such a kindness for your plants and is great to add around your plants — it improves overall plant health by adding in much-needed nutrients, while also improving drainage. (Plant roots need air nearly as much as they need water, and compost’s larger particles create space for roots to reach the air pockets they need.)

Wonderful for retaining water and cutting down on weeds, mulch or pine straw is much easier to add to your beds in spring, while plants are smaller and able to grow up and around the ground cover.  Adding new trees and shrubs to your yard is also often easier when other plants are smaller and easier to manoeuver around earlier in the season — also having more time in the ground before the heat and stresses of summer can often give young trees and shrubs a helpful head start. Adding in key garden tasks as recurring events on your calendar is smart, too, so they’re less likely to sneak up on you next year.


ASK local experts:

As anyone can tell you, golfers and bakers and music-makers all become better at their craft with practice, and so do gardeners. Getting advice on what to do can be a vital shortcut, though — and often key advice is what not to do.  One hard lesson, for instance, for many home gardeners is not to prune flowering spring shrubs before they’ve flowered. Obviously (in retrospect) pruning too early ruins their floral show — and any gardener worth her salt will tell you to wait to trim them back until after they’ve flowered, toward summer.

While there is so much to know about our outdoor spaces — science! — it’s often just getting out there and getting our hands dirty that helps us to find the know-how that works in our yard. Finding reliable experts to share a pruning tip, or the right date for overseeding your lawn, or which perennials take the sun well in your area — these folks are priceless and can help you immeasurably, whether it’s a well seasoned grandmother or a Grade-A garden center expert. 

Cooperative extensions are a great resource for home gardeners, too, and are available nationwide. Here are two links to help you connect to the one in your state:

With good care and attention now — whether asking or adding, removing or repairing — your garden will reward your spring preparations with more of those good summer vibes later on.

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