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Spring Gardening To-Do List

By Jesse Eastman

This article was originally published in North Forty News on March 25th, 2021.

Spring is a busy time for gardening, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By approaching the season with a bit of forethought and planning, you can manage the chaos and avoid costly mistakes. Here are my top five tips for preparing for spring:

  1. Spring Inspection
    Take time to review the state of your yard and garden. 
    1. Finish any fall cleanup, including raking up leaves (be sure not to remove mulch), cut back ornamental grasses, and prune away and winter dieback in woody plants like roses and hydrangea. 
    1. Check hardscapes for damage (patios, walkways, stone walls, etc). They may have shifted from freeze and thaw. They are easier to repair prior to installing new plants.
    1. Check for animal damage. Critters burrow, dig, and munch their way through the landscape, so look for damage to bark and stems at ground level.
  1. Plan your Veggie Garden
    Sketch your garden space and where all your plants will grow. This helps keep things organized and helps determine how many of each type of plant you will need. Pay attention to which crop you will sow directly, which you will start indoors, and which you will purchase as started plants, and schedule your time and space accordingly.
  2. Test your Soil
    Healthy soil is a major factor in success or failure in the garden and landscape. Soil testing is recommended every 3-5 years, but if it’s a new garden bed or if you’ve had problems that can’t easily be attributed to weather or pests, more frequent testing might be in order. Colorado State University offers detailed soil testing that includes customized recommendations for how to correct nutritional problems in your soil, and their free soil collection kits are available at most independent garden centers. 
  3. Time to Prune
    Early spring is the ideal time for pruning many of the trees and shrubs in your landscape, but not all of them. When pruning, make sure your pruners are sharp and sterilized. 
    1. Start by removing any branches that were broken or damaged during the winter.
    1. DO prune shrubs and trees that bloom on new wood as needed. This includes most summer-blooming shrubs like butterfly bush, roses, hydrangea, mockorange, potentilla, and rose of sharon. 
    1. DO NOT prune shrubs that bloom on old wood. These are typically spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia, lilac, ninebark, and quince. It won’t harm the plants, but you will be removing the wood that bears this year’s flower buds, so you will be robbing yourself of a flowery display.
  4. Make a Plan for Spring Freezes
    In northern Colorado, our last average frost occurs around May 15th. Fortunately, it is easy to protect your most tender annuals and vegetables with a little bit of planning. Products like Wall-O-Waters and Hot Kaps can protect individual plants, while whole sections of the landscape can be protected with frost cloth, row covers, or even plastic sheeting. Make sure your frost protection is not touching your plants – the air trapped by the frost cover is what provides insulation, and if the frost cover is touching tender young plants, the cold will transfer directly through the cover to your plant and cause damage. Also be sure frost protection has good structural support – snow can collect on the frost protection and crush the tender plants below!

Originally published on April 1st, 2021.