Getting the garden ready for spring is something home gardeners look forward to all winter long. The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and it's almost time for a new season to begin.
But there's more to preparing your garden for planting than paging through seed catalogs and daydreaming about juicy homegrown tomatoes. You'll want to take stock of your gear and supplies, make a plan, and get everything ready for a successful growing season.
Here's a step-by-step guide to getting your garden ready for spring.
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Prune Trees and Shrubs
The first step in getting your garden ready for spring begins in mid-to-late winter with pruning. Plan to prune fruit trees six to 12 weeks before your hardiness zone's last frost date, ideally after the coldest temperatures have passed but before buds have formed.
Some shrubs can also be pruned around this time, as can many types of roses. Use sharp, sterilized shears, loppers, or a saw to cut away any dead or damaged growth, remove crossing branches, and shape the plant. However, spring-blooming shrubs, like azaleas, should be pruned after flowering in the spring to avoid removing flower buds. Likewise, hydrangea pruning depends upon the type of hydrangea growing in your garden. Some hydrangeas bloom on old wood, and pruning too early can mean a summer without flowers. Always check your shrubs' pruning recommendations prior to cutting them back.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
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Check Tools and Equipment
Before the growing season gets into full swing, it's a good idea to inspect the tools and equipment you'll need in the garden.
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- Give tools a wash in mild soap and warm water. Hose down large pieces of equipment, like rakes and shovels.
- Use a wire brush and damp cloth to clean wooden handles, then treat clean, dry handles with mineral oil to keep them in good condition.
- Note any tools that need to be repaired or replaced.
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Inventory Seeds and Supplies
It's easy to get excited about buying new seeds as you prepare for the growing season, but it's important to inventory any seeds, bulbs, or other propagation material you may have saved from previous seasons. Many seeds remain viable for years, so you can save money by using the seeds you already own.
Take the time to organize your stash, take an inventory on paper, and cull any seeds you're not interested in growing this year. You can donate them, share them with friends, or swap them with fellow gardeners.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
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Plan Your Garden
This is the time gardeners look forward to all winter: sitting down with your seed inventory, a stack of seed catalogs, and a notebook to dream up the new season's planting plan. You'll want to take your USDA hardiness zone, your space constraints, sun exposure, and soil type into account, as well as the growth habit and needs of each particular plant.
One tip is to site tall plants to the north of shorter ones so they won't block the sunlight. It's a good idea to plant spring crops together so you can harvest them and then plant summer veggies in their place.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Order Seeds and Plant Starts
Once you've made your garden plan, it's time to order seeds. You can buy seeds at local plant shops, nurseries, and garden centers if you prefer to shop in person. An added benefit of sourcing seeds locally is that shops will typically stock varieties that do well in your growing zone.
You can order from seed companies and even buy plant starts online, although you'll want to wait until the weather is warm enough to have any live plants shipped. Another option is to check out local farmers' markets and farmstands, which may take pre-orders for spring and summer vegetable starts.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
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Clean Up Garden Beds and Planters
As planting time draws near, you'll want to tidy up your garden plots, raised beds, and planters. Remove fallen sticks, leaves, dead vegetation, and other debris. Keep an eye out for old plant tags, broken stakes, missing tools, and trash that may have blown into the garden.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
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Prepare the Soil
A few weeks before planting time, you'll want to prep garden beds and containers. Rake off any mulch you may have used to cover the soil for winter, like straw or shredded leaves. Pull any early weeds that may have sprung up.
While tilling or turning over the soil with a fork or shovel was long considered necessary to work in fertilizer, gardening experts now recommend a no-till approach. Instead, add organic compost to the soil surface in raised beds and in-ground beds. Refresh pots and planters with fresh potting mix or top-dress them, spreading a thin layer of compost over the soil.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
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Start Seeds Indoors
Indoor seed starting is one of the best ways to save money when planting your garden. Check seed catalogs and packets for when to start seeds indoors versus direct-sowing them in your garden. Depending on your hardiness zone and the variety, you may need to start seeds in late winter or very early spring—anywhere from six to 12 weeks before your zone's last frost date. Some seeds may need special treatment to germinate well, such as stratification—a cold period—so include the amount of time needed in your planning.
Check the "days to maturity" number, which will help you figure out when those plants should be ready to harvest based on the date you plant. Also, make sure to add extra time to harden off seedlings before you plant them in the garden.
Now you're ready to get cool-season seeds and seedlings into the ground. Consult your gardening plan as you shop for warm-weather seedlings and consider summer and fall plantings. Keep up with regular maintenance like weeding, mulching, and watering to keep your garden thriving and looking beautiful all year long.