Spring Garden Chores

Plan Your Work And Play For Spring

Spring usually goes from: “It’s never, never, never going to arrive” to “I’m weeks behind schedule” in 17 nano seconds or less. Gardeners are body-slammed from the tedium of winter house arrest into a frantic, aching rush tackling endless chores.  

But don’t panic. We are here to help with suggestions based on our experience of tasks that are best done sooner than later. One of the first things you should decide is what to-dos can wait for later in the season. Pick your battles wisely. For instance, if it’s too wet, cold or the schedule too packed, skip some of those early vegetables and plant them in late summer for fall harvest. Here are other ideas.

Michael’s suggestions 

  • Take photos of borders and beds to see what areas need filling when bulb planting time arrives. Memories fade almost as quickly as the snowdrops and hyacinths.
  • Apply weed preventer to reduce tedious work in pavements, beds and borders. Organic and nonorganic products are available, but nothing is 100 percent effective. Unless arctic conditions are expected to persist for weeks, I  start in late winter with the brick patio and walk. These face south and warm quickly. The gravel drive is next and then beds and borders. Following label instructions, apply just before rain and save watering the products in. Record-setting precip last year — much in the form of gulley-washing downpours — mean more frequent treatment. (Caveat – preventers don’t distinguish between desired self-sown flowers and weed seeds.)
  • Drop everything and schedule an escape to a nearby state park, botanic garden or stretch of lovely country driving. Spend a few hours or better a day  savoring the joy of spring fever. What a waste of time, you’re probably thinking. If poet William Wordsworth had spent that fateful spring day planting potatoes and cabbages instead of “wandering lonely as a cloud” among the “host of golden daffodils, all he would have had was a crossed-off to-do list. Instead, we have his timeless ode to spring and some of it glorious flowers. Your spirit needs lifted just as much as his. Hit the road.

Debra’s suggestions:

  • Now is the time to weed. Spring rains soften the soil which allows annual and perennial weeds to be removed; roots and all. Weeding can be a morning meditative practice. It is also an opportunity to roam your gardens with a cup of tea in one hand and a weed bucket in the other. Just make sure the weeds go into the bucket and not your tea.
  • Start your seeds for melons, squash, kohlrabi, and cabbages inside. Direct seed into the garden crops that like cooler soils: peas, lettuces, mesclun mixes, tatsoi, mizuna, kale, collards, dill, and cilantro. Transplant the tomato and chili seedlings that you started in early March into larger pots.
  • Visit the garden center to shop for cold-loving herbaceous plants like pansies and violas, primroses, and snapdragons.  These spring beauties add early color to borders and containers.  Even try mixing them with edibles like lettuce and kale for your spring containers.  Cuttings of willow and yellow-twig dogwood add further interest.
  • Watch for the early ground bees. Their small burrows are easy to step on and crush
  • Sit for a moment or three and marvel at the life that is emerging from the ground. And remember to breathe…

Teresa’s suggestions

  • Rework tired beds.  On a cool overcast day, dig everything from the bed and place the plants on a tarp in the shade.  Divide overgrown plants, toss unhealthy ones, move some to other beds or give others away. Work compost into the bed then replant the existing plants and add others as needed.
  • Edge beds while the ground is soft.  A clean edge adds definition to borders and helps control weeds. See Michael’s post on edging.
  • Prune dead, damaged and diseased branches from shrubs. After spring-flowering shrubs bloom, they can be pruned for size and shape. Also, remove suckers from crabapples and the base of trees like magnolias.
  • Remove invasive plants from natural areas, perhaps a wooded area at the back of your property.  Look for bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard, multi-flora rose, lesser celandine and autumn olive – all aggressive plants that crowd out other valuable plants and wildflowers. For tips, see http://ohiodnr.gov/invasiveplants or join an invasive plant volunteer work day at a local park.

Fairly simple steps to make your yard party worthy


By Michael Leach

For the privileged few, prepping for a backyard party simply means giving instructions to the gardener, chatting about menus with the cook and planning a sweeping entrance at party time worthy of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

The rest us simply assume all duties of the ever-toiling staff at Downton Abbey. While I can’t advise on canapés and cocktails, you can make it seem as if a gardener (or at least landscape service) keeps up appearances.

Before acting upon a single item on the following to-do list, however, make a rain plan. Midwest weather is notoriously changeable.

And never forget the most important thing — people are coming to have a good time, not judge a landscape contest. Granted the guest list may include a persnickety relative or in-law, whose sole purpose is to find fault. They will succeed no matter what. Don’t sweat details.

Now for those promised suggestions.

  • Limit the party area and focus efforts there. No sense grooming each inch if only a 20-foot perimeter around patio or deck will be used.IMG_3501
  • Rent or borrow a power edger a few days ahead to create an unmistakable boundary between lawn and beds. Even if weeds abound in borders and flower beds, a mown lawn and crisp edge suggest impeccable maintenance standards. (In an edging post I enthuse about the virtues of edging.)
  • Fluff up mulch to revive color. Apply fresh mulch only if you have a week or two to allow the odor to dissipate. Never have more than 2 inches on the ground.
  • Remove yellow leaves unless the plant is supposed to have yellow/golden leaves, such as some hostas and heucheras. Eyes are immediately drawn to yellow and jaundice quickly comes to mind.IMG_3504
  • Keep insect repellents handy. Whiners dodging and swatting bugs are as odious as buzzing gnats or mosquitoes.
  • Use fresh flowers in simple centerpieces. A single rose blossom floating in a clear glass cup, better yet several in a bowl, suffice. Accompany the blooms with a few floating candles if you like. Florist flowers are OK, particularly if garden blooms are sparse.
  • Add some festive, flowery containers  at your entry area, party scene and other strategic points if budget allows.
  • Say “thank you” to any kind remark about the landscape. Never point out flaws to beg a compliment. (If that fussbudget guest exclaims about the poison ivy amongst the daisies, praise those keen observation skills and change the subject.)
  • DSC_1094Create a party atmosphere by stringing white or colored Christmas lights under the patio umbrella, along the porch rafters, around the deck railing, upon shrub branches and other places time and plugs allow. Keep cords from becoming tripping hazards.

Be warned: You may  like the lights so much, they become permanent fixtures. Nothing wrong with having  romantic ambience on a week night and pretending you’re sipping a sophisticated something in a Fred and Ginger flick.


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