Clean up, fix up garden in time for spring

The first day of spring is just around the corner. All over America, garden lovers are coming out of their metaphorical hibernation and beginning to head back outside with that eternal optimism that this year's garden will be an improvement over last year's!
The Vernal Equinox, to give this day its official title, falls on March 20th, 2008, with day and night being of equal duration. There's something about the first day of spring that lifts the spirits of everyone. But those of us who spend a lot of time outdoors for work or pleasure take particular delight in the official arrival of spring.
Even chores seem less chore-like. Just as preparing a meal is more enjoyable than doing the dishes afterwards, spring garden tasks are more fun than stowing away everything as the winter chill approaches.
Here are just a few items to put on your garden to-do list.
Clean up Rain, frost and winter storms can cover your landscape with twigs, small tree limbs and other debris. During those cold weeks, you didn't feel motivated to go out there and pick up all those bits and pieces, but now it's time. Patrol your land with a lawn and leaf bag to collect the smaller bits and haul away the big pieces. Make this your first task because, in addition to cleaning up your space, you will discover any areas that might have become damaged over the winter and will require some TLC.
Weeding Soft moist soil makes weeding much easier and this time of year usually provides those conditions. Look for weed seedlings that you can remove before they mature. It might be tempting to add these pulled weeds to your compost but resist the temptation. You'll simply be creating a weed farm!
Compost However, non-weed material can be added to compost. Many gardeners like to start a new compost pile alongside last year's "mature" pile. You can add leaves, grass clippings, vegetable peelings and even straw and paper. As well as weeds, avoid adding any plant material that appears to be diseased.
Pruning There's a lot of fear and trepidation about pruning, particularly when it comes to when and how much to prune. Pruning at the wrong time might cause a shrub to not bloom that season, but is unlikely to be a death sentence. Among the plants that can be pruned in early spring while still dormant are: Flowering Dogwood, Bradford Pear, Wisteria, Red Bud, and Crape Myrtle. If you are in doubt about pruning, I recommend a visit to this Web site for a comprehensive "how and when" guide. You can also go to and simply search the phrase "When to prune."
Ornamental grasses If you left your ornamental grasses untrimmed over winter, now is the time to trim them back. Simply snipping away at them gives you quite a lot of clean-up. To prevent this, gather together the stems in bundles and wrap masking tape tightly around the mid-section. Lean the bundle to one side and use shears or a hedge trimmer to cut the grasses back to ground level. Take the bundles to your compost pile and snip off the masking tape.
Preparing new beds The ideal time to dig a new bed is in the fall. The soil is usually drier and the warmth of late fall sunshine helps along any soil amendments you added, working through the winter, ready for you to plant in the spring But it's still possible to start a new bed in the spring. Avoid this task when the soil is wet and heavy. You'll find it is far easier once the soil is drier.
As you can see, this is just a quick overview of early spring garden needs. I'm happy to respond to any specific questions that you wish to send me via e-mail. You can find literally hundreds of in-depth articles at my Web site. You might also wish to visit a site hosted by the National Gardening Association: where you can type in your zip code for a report for your geographical region.
Spring fever... catch it! The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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