Spring has arrived! The plants are beginning to bud and the blossom is in full bloom. And after the long, dark, winter months of lockdown, spring is literally the breath of fresh air that we’ve all been so desperately craving. So, as the days get longer and it starts to feel warmer, it’s time to give our gardens a much needed spring clean and get things moving again for the summer ahead.
I’ve put together an easy to follow guide that includes 10 steps to help you get your garden spring ready…
- The big spring clean
It’s not necessarily the most enjoyable job when it comes to getting the garden spring ready, but after a winter of rain and falling leaves, if your garden is anything like mine, it may have turned a not very appealing shade of algae green. Start by giving the garden a good sweep and remove all the dead leaves as they can harbour diseases and allow bacteria to develop and infect your plants.
If you can get your hands on a jet wash then it will make your life a hell of a lot easier, but if not, a tough bristled brush and some warm water should do the trick. Try and stay away from chemical cleaners if possible as they are not only damaging to your plants but also the environment.
Alternatively, you can use white distilled vinegar and water to create an all natural, non toxic cleaning solution for your deck which will help to remove any mildew, mould, or dirt from the wood. Combine 1 cup of vinegar with 4 ltrs of water. This solution is also great for cleaning up your clay or terracotta pots when warm water just isn’t quite doing the trick.
Clean all of your hard landscaping and wipe down any wooden furniture that has been left out all winter, scrubbing along the grain and not against it, so that everything’s gleaming and looking it’s best for the spring season.
2. Show your lawn some love
Spring is a good time to feed and rake your lawn and scarify the ground. This will ensure all debris and dead grass cuttings are removed, allowing your lawn to breathe and not become waterlogged.
You can also use this opportunity to level off uneven areas and add new grass seeds to any patchy or bare spots to give your turf a new lease of life. Try to avoid over seeding though as this will cause extremely dense growth that will stick out like a sore thumb. If in doubt stick to about 10 to 20 seeds per square inch.
Once you have scattered over your grass seeds, fertilise the lawn using a seasonal fertiliser which will benefit both the old and the new grass. Fertiliser can be added at any point during the above process and even up to a week afterwards, but for convenience it makes the most sense to do it at this stage.
If possible give your newly seeded lawn a light watering every day for a couple of weeks, if there is no rain – you want to aim to give it just enough water to keep the seeds from drying out whilst being careful not to wash them away in the process.
You’ll have your grass looking lush and green, ready for picnics on the lawn in no time.
3. Give your walls, floors and furniture a treat
If you forgot to cover up your garden furniture for the winter, or you got a little bit too vigorous with the jet washer, then you might need to touch up a bit of paint work here and there. I normally need to freshen up the edges of our raised planters every single year with a lick of paint and give the deck a top up of sealer to protect it from the elements.
Timber may also need to be given a sand every couple of years before resealing or painting, otherwise it may become damaged and even warped over time.
Osmo’s Wood Protector is a preservative wood wax primer made with natural oils and waxes and is produced entirely without biocides so it’s completely safe for indoor and outdoor use. It is extremely water-repellent, comes in a number of different finishes and you can even get one with added UV protection for south facing areas that are constant, direct sunlight.
Pergolas, fences and walls that are particularly exposed to the elements may also need topping up with paints or stains once a year too, not only to keep them looking their best, but to ensure that they are protected and sealed from permanent weather damage. It may seem like a bit of a chore, but it will save you from having to replace them in the future.
4. Give your plants a spring trim
Many plants benefit from a little TLC to get them ready for the spring. This might involve re-potting, moving them to a more protected area of the garden or trimming the stems to encourage new growth.
If you have buddleia, roses and hygrangers, for example, these will need to be pruned in the spring, after the frosts have passed.
Deadhead any spring bulbs so that they don’t wast energy setting seed and continue to produce blooms for the next growing season.
In spite of raking out the worst of the old foliage, your evergreens can end up looking a little tired after a few seasons. Now is the best time to cut back all of the old growth, this must be done in the spring or early summer when the plant is actively growing.
It’s normal for ornamental grasses to turn shades of brown as the weather gets colder. Don’t panic, you can trim them back at almost any time – you may even see them starting to shoot up new growth from as early as March depending on how mild it is where you live.
For shade loving ferns, as soon as the soil warms enough to start the new growth, you will notice small “knuckles” forming at the crown of the plant. This is the precise moment to get secateurs and cut off all the old growth. Be brave it will grow back fuller and greener as a result however, as April can be renowned in the UK for the occasional frost and snow fall, try to ensure that this opportunity has passed, before cutting back old leaves as they help to protect the new growth from frost damage.
You can read in more detail about when we unwrap and cut back our tree ferns in a previous blog post that I wrote here.
5. Put away the winter warmers
While we’re on the subject of putting away the winter warmers – if you wrapped or tied any tender trees and shrubs, they should now be unwrapped for the Spring. Warm temperatures and poor air circulation can cause a fungus which will harm the plant, so untie and unwrap all those protected trees and shrubs and remove any protective mulch or straw that you put in place last autumn.
An unexpected frost can do even more harm to plants that might still be in dormancy though so if you’re not 100% sure that the bad weather has passed, you can loosen, and open up some of the wrapping, leaving the protective fabric still loosely on the stakes or wire just in case you need to close it back up again.
6. Divide and replant
Dividing perennials, such as irises, hostas, daylilies and peonies, is a great way to make the most out of the plants that you have in your garden. Plants, such as grasses, that have multiplied into big clumps can take over and compete with others for moisture and nutrients in the soil. When dividing your plants, you’re not only keeping the garden tidy and encouraging the plants to bloom but you’re also producing more plants to put elsewhere in your garden so you’re saving money too.
Early spring through to early summer is a great time to divide most perennials. This allows the transplants to establish their roots long before the following winter’s frosts take hold.
First, gather your tools – you’ll need a spade, garden fork or trowel depending on the size of the plant, and a container to put them in for safe transportation. You could even use a serrated knife to divide the plant if the roots are particularly tough.
Make sure the plants are well watered – this relieves the stress of dividing them and makes it easier to dig up the clump. Divide plants a day or two after good rainfall or water well beforehand.
Dig up your plant – it’s best to use a garden fork, but a spade or trowel can also work. Loosen the soil around the plant and pick up the clump, and place it on some tarp or in your container. If you don’t want to divide the whole clump, simply slice through it with a spade and dig part of it out.
Shake off any loose soil from the roots – this helps you to see where to divide the plant. You can also use a watering can or hose on the “soft wash” setting to wash away the soil.
Pull or cut the plant apart to divide it – if the clump is growing tightly together, you may need to use a trowel or a knife to separate them. Each division should have a root section and leaves. If the leaves are hard to manage, cut them back by about two thirds.
Replant each divided section – place them at the same depth that they were growing in before you dug them up, and then firm the soil around each division. Water well, and if possible, add a light layer of mulch around the divisions to keep the soil in place, and help retain the moisture in the soil. This will also limit the growth of weeds. If you can’t re plant the divisions in the ground right away, make sure you temporarily plant them in a pot instead.
7. Get your soil spring ready
While you’ve been taking a little break from garden maintenance over the cold winter months the weeds have been been moving in. As part of your soil preparation for spring, you should try to remove as many weeds as you can. Weed. Weed and weed some more.
Rake over your soil to maintain airflow and ensure that when you start to plant any new perennials, and divided plants, that they will have the best growing matter possible to thrive. Now is also a great time to lay some fresh topsoil – for best results, put down a layer of 2-3 inches of topsoil on your planting beds and mix it into the existing soil.
Stick with potting soil for your containers, and use topsoil in your borders and plants beds as topsoil is heavy and won’t drain as well as you would need it to in a pot.
Pest control – As you look out over your garden after the winter, you may find a plant or two which have either been ravaged by insects or disease. These plants aren’t healthy and more than likely didn’t develop strong roots. You should remove them quickly, but do not compost them. You don’t want bugs or disease to spread through your compost too.
Check underneath leaves for bugs and flies. Some species can be brushed off or blasted with cold water. To prevent unwanted visitors such as Snails and Slugs, first remove them by hand and add a layer of gravel, bark or wood chips to your garden beds. You can also use broken up egg shells and copper rings around the base of your plants.
Water the base of the plants in the mornings, if you can, as the foliage and soil surface is likely to then stay drier for longer, discouraging slugs, snails and mildew diseases.
Replace the food and water in your bird feeders to encourage birds into the garden who will help to control any unwanted insects.
8. Get your kitchen garden started
If you’re into growing your own, now is the time to start ordering your seeds in before things start to sell out. Some vegetables such as cabbage and kale can already be sown outside as long as they’re undercover.
If you have a greenhouse, or ample windowsill, you can start preparing your containers for propagating. Thoroughly clean up any old pots, or you go completely DIY and make your own containers out of toilet roll tubes, yoghurt pots or old egg boxes.
Avoid planting your seedlings out too soon. Veggies that thrive in warmer climates need warm air and soil and should not be planted outdoors until after the last frost has passed. Seedlings that are planted out too early can become too “leggy” and overgrown while they wait for the warmer weather to arrive, and will require constant potting up to keep them from becoming root bound. Hold out on planting aubergine, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes and all members of the cucumber family until late spring unless you have a green house or cold frame.
Read about how we made our veggie patch and cold frame in a previous blog post.
9. Butt out and start watering
If you have the space, now is an excellent time to install a water butt in your garden and make the most of all of that seasonal rainfall. Harvesting rainwater is essential for environmentally friendly gardening. Peak demand for water in the hotter months often forces water companies to resort to groundwater reserves and streams, which is harmful to the environment and costly for consumers.
Rainfall is the best type of water for plants – ericaceous plants in particular, such as rhododendrons, Japanese Maples (Acers) and blueberries do best with rainwater, since tap water is often slightly alkaline.
Water butts don’t have to be an eyesore either, you can get wall mounted ones that can be hidden out of the way and connected to your guttering to collect all of that excess rain water. You can even get ones that are disguised as tall plant pots that come with their own tap for easy watering.
If like us you don’t have the room for a large water butt, you can just place a steel bucket outside and collect as much as you can. Make sure you put a mesh covering over the top to stop it from getting clogged up with leaves and prevent any wildlife from getting trapped inside.
10. Stop. Hammock time
Time to stop and take a moment to enjoy all of your hard work. Dust off the hammock or outdoor cushions and enjoy being out in the fresh air once again, while you take in all of those seasonal changes and watch the garden as it wakes up and comes back into bloom as we head into the summer months.
I hope that you find this guide for getting your garden spring ready useful, and that you can continue to refer back to it year after year.