There are spring gardening tips and lists out there in books and in the blogosphere, as well as everywhere else. If you need to know what to do next, go ahead and refer to any of those many sources. Or check out my posts, like this one, on the same sorts of topics.
This is my list of other tips: practical things I’ve learned that may or may not be standard advice, but that I think are worth considering. I had intended to publish this post earlier in the Spring, but better late than never . . . .
1. Spring comes on suddenly in much of Canada (Victoria readers skip to number three :) ), and your back and knees have been relaxing and losing strength and tone all winter–three to six months’ worth! So take it easy. Like a marathon runner, gymnast or weight lifter, pace yourself by beginning your garden work in small doses so as not to end up hurt and forced to watch the weeds grow from indoors.
2. For the same reasons, take care of your skin. Cancers have been on the rise since people had easy access to flights and could go from no sun exposure in a Canadian winter to full day, all-out U.V. exposure in three or four hours. Gradual exposure again is the word here. Gardening is a great way to get a little colour and Vitamin D, but an easy way to get a terrible burn, especially the first few times you go out sleeveless. (What did I do on the weekend? Not telling.)
3. Now down to the garden stuff! Everyone tells you to divide your bulbs in the fall. I am good at following directions. The only problem is that year after year I would never get the job done because how would I ever know which patches of bulbs were which height and colour, or even where they were after three months of gardening and the disappearance of the decayed leaves? So I decided to rebel: I divide mine soon after they are out of bloom whenever possible. That way I still remember what colour each patch was,where I need to locate the extras and which patches were larger. Do they still come up? They sure do!
4. If you’re going to prune forsythia, hydrangeas, spirea or any other leafy shrub for that matter, note that you can really only see the stalks properly, and where they are too crowded, weak, crossing or badly formed, before the leaves are all on. So run, run, run and take your heavy loppers out there before everything grows in and you can no longer see the form of the shrub!
5. If you know me at all, you know that I love mulch! I have mulched at almost times of the year, for sure. However, the best time is right now! I’m sorry to keep contradicting numbers one and two, but if you do this job now, you will be able to see where all your plants are because they have just come up. Still, they are small enough that you can work around them and right up close to them, covering all the bare ground that you may not be able to reach when everything is fully out.
6. Dedicate the time you need to dandilions the minute they pop their intense little flowers. Spring is the easiest time to get them; time spent when they first come up will reward you. They are easier to pull now, before the ground dries out and they grow deeper roots. They will quickly seed, and we don’t want each one to turn into a hundred more! I love the Fiskars Stand-Up Weed Remover for lawns, an eco-friendly way to get those little monsters out whole.
7. Get rid of your spent indoor bulbs by putting them in the garden while you still remember what colour they were. For daffodils and crocuses, you can put them under the lawn if you like (put some bone meal in with them), so you’ll have a little interest next spring, before it turns green and needs mowing. Why waste?
8. We put blood meal on our gardens in fall to scare away pests that like bulbs. But in spring, it can be lucky if anything comes up–winter has washed the horrors of blood meal away, and bunnies have made a salad of your tulips, while squirrels simply dig them right out and toss them on top of the soil so that they die. Unless you have a starving outdoor cat, you need to put blood meal on your garden again in spring, as soon as you see growth from your tulips! Re-apply after rain.
9. Looking ahead a little at things that happen every year: it gets hot! Really, really hot in the Toronto area, actually. Who wants to be out there slaving in a hot garden in July? July is the time to loll around your garden with an iced tea admiring your handiwork, so get on top of the heavy work (weeding, mulching, transplanting, etc.) between now and the end of the school year so that you can relax a little during the inevitable summer heat.
But if you don’t, then remember to drink lots of water.
10. Seed, transplant and take cuttings now. This includes any re-seeding of your lawn. It is far easier to keep new growth and cuttings alive in the cooler part of the growing season than it is when it becomes very hot. Then, hopefully by the time it gets hot, they will have rooted and established themselves sufficiently to survive the harsher weather. Little known fact: it’s a LOT easier to grow new shrubs from cuttings in a humid climate like Toronto’s than it is where summers are dry, like they are on Vancouver Island. So look: we do have something to be thankful to our climate for when it comes to gardening!
Note that you have a short window of time to divide or move taller perennials if you want them to stand up on their own. If you do it when they have just come up and aren’t too tall yet, they will grow in nicely in their new homes; if you wait until they are more or less completely grown in, you’ll find they tip over and will require more staking.
By the time I have this published, you will be in full-out garden mode, running to keep up with planting annuals and making things look nice. Take care of these details “ASAP” in spring to make this summer’s gardening easier and more fun.
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