Woman and her child in the garden after learning some early spring garden tips.
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Is it really spring?

Early Spring Garden Tips

Ashley Robinson
May 17, 2024

Early Spring Garden Tips

Spring is coming and it’s time to really start working on the garden! Maybe you’ve been planning and pondering your garden for a few months, or maybe recent warm weather has snuck up on you. Either way, it’s time to do some maintenance, setup, and planting to get the most out of your garden this summer!

Is it really spring?

Depending on where you live, spring might be in full swing, or you might still be worried about frosts overnight. An important first step for any gardener is to understand your hardiness zone and your frost-free date. The hardiness zone will help you choose which plants are most likely to thrive. The frost-free date will help you know when it’s safe to start putting plants in the ground. Once you know these two things, you are ready to start gardening!

Also, given that the U.S. is enormous and the climate varies wildly across the country, it’s worth noting that there are lots of great region-specific monthly checklists that can help you dive into the nitty-gritty of garden timing in your region. Do a little reading before you start pruning and planting for the year!

Get your beds and soil ready

Once the freezing temperatures are mostly gone, it’s time to clear debris, dead leaves, and protective ground coverings from your existing garden beds. Separate out any non-compostable debris, then if you can, compost any organic matter that you remove.

If you’re setting up new beds or planters, you’ll need to fill them! The goal is to create a healthy soil environment to help the plants thrive. To do this, you’ll need a mix of topsoil, compost, and aerating materials like peat moss (gardeners refer to this as their soil recipe.)

Choosing organic, locally sourced soil ingredients is great for your garden and the environment. Local composting programs and community gardens may have compost available for purchase, and if you’re purchasing bagged soil or compost, try to stick to organic options! Local gardening groups are a great resource for places to find good soil components, especially if you’re looking for bulk.

One great, sustainable method for building soil in your beds, especially if you’re planning on gardening for multiple years, is lasagna gardening. This is a process of layering plant scraps, shredded “brown matter” like cardboard, and soil to create a self-sustaining soil ecosystem. As the layers decompose, they create a very healthy, aerated soil system that’s perfect for no-till gardening. It takes a little more work and patience up front, but each season the soil will just get better and better without having to till, and you can use household scraps to create a healthy garden bed!

While fall is the ideal time to get lasagna beds going, you can still use this method in the spring—just top it off with some ready-to-go topsoil and compost so you can plant right away.

And if you’re working with existing beds or planters, spring is a great time to amend your soil, which involves tilling in different materials like compost, peat, bone meal, or wood chips depending on what your soil needs. You can even get your soil tested by your local Extension Service if you need help knowing what your soil needs!

Start thinking about water

Let’s face it, gardening can take a lot of water! If you’re trying to garden as sustainably as possible, figuring out a good system for watering is important. One of the best ways to water efficiently (and the least work for you, in the long run) is drip irrigation, which slowly disperses water directly onto the soil where it’s needed. There are different variations of this available, but they’re all designed to waste less water than sprinklers or hose spraying, and a lot of drip systems can be automated, which takes a lot off of your plate!

Spring is a great time to set up your irrigation because you’re not too busy tending to plants quite yet. Once the risk of frost is past, you can safely set up drip irrigation systems.

Another way to water sustainably is to install a rain barrel for watering. This collects runoff from the roof of your home, allowing you to recycle this back into your garden instead of watching it (literally) go down the drain in a storm.

And no matter your watering system, you can help your beds maintain moisture and regulate their temperature by mulching. As soon as you finish planting in the spring, you can spread mulch over your beds. Just make sure you choose a good non-toxic option that fits your climate!

Get to the plants!

Once the risk of frost is past and you’ve gotten your garden ready and made your plans, you can safely think about planting. Before you start putting anything in the ground, do a little research about each plant on when to plant them specifically based on conditions like soil temperature. This info is usually right on the seed packet or seedling tag. Some plants can go in as soon as the frost risk is gone, and some will fare better once the soil warms up a bit, so make sure you double check your plants and the weather before you start planting.

If you’ve been planning for a while and you started your own seedlings, you may need to harden them off before they go into the ground. This is a process of transitioning young, delicate seedlings from the gentle indoor environment of your home to the harsher realities of being outside. And if you end up with some extra seedlings, don’t throw them away—share them with neighbors and fellow gardeners!

If you have an existing garden, early spring is a great time to split perennials. Not only does this prevent overgrowth and keep your plants healthy, it allows you to get multiple plants out of one! If you don’t have room for all the splits in your own garden, you can befriend local gardeners by sharing extra splits.

Early spring is also a good time to prune trees and shrubs, as long as they haven’t started budding. But if the weather is already quite warm in your area, be careful with this—you don’t want to prune when the plants are budding and sprouting!

Lowering your garden’s impact

Especially for novice gardeners, gardening can sometimes take a lot of resources. From plastic packaging to excessive fertilizing to overwatering to overgrown vegetables, there are a lot of ways that gardening at home can get a little wasteful. But with conscientious practices like drip irrigation, composting, and recycling gardening materials for multiple years, you can lower your impact considerably.

One place to consider lowering your garden’s impact is with anything that consumes energy directly, like mowers and lighting. When choosing gardening equipment, consider manual or electric tools instead of gasoline-powered tools. And when it comes to garden lighting, there are some great solar-powered LED options that look great and produce no emissions!

And lastly, especially if you plan to grow vegetables in your garden, now is a great time to prepare for summer abundance. Almost no matter what, you’re going to end up with too much produce to eat while it is fresh, so get ready for the bounty! Plan some preservation strategies for your home, like canning and freezing, and think about ways to share the abundance with your community. There’s nothing worse than watching your hard gardening work go to waste because of overabundance, so spend some time thinking about how to preserve and share!

As spring comes into full swing, use the early warm weather to get your garden’s soil and watering system in great shape, and don’t forget to prune and split existing plants before it gets too warm! This way, your garden is ready for planting as soon as the weather is right, and you’ll benefit from a healthy and sustainable garden all summer long.

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