spring garden cleanup

How To Do a Spring Garden Cleanup [+ Bonus Checklist]

Has your garden taken a beating over the winter? And now you’re not sure where to start? Do a spring garden cleanup to prepare it for a busy growing season.

Spring is a season of new growth, new beginnings and warmer weather.

Gardeners and homesteaders everywhere are ditching the bulky winter sweaters, rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with new-found energy.

It can be overwhelming though at times! You garden may look like a tornado has been through (hopefully not for real!) with fallen leaves, branches, dead perennials that you didn’t get a chance to cleanup in the fall.

So once the snow has melted and the weather warms up, time to get started cleaning up and preparing for lots of new growth!

Harvest Overwintered Vegetables

Like me, you might still have some overwintering vegetables in the garden. Now it is time to pick those in order to make way for new crops.

Some of the vegetables may still be edible. You may end up with a spring stir-fry or soup or stew!

If you have vegetables that got frost damage or simply rotted in the ground, be sure to remove and compost them. 

Prepare the Soil

raised bed preparationOnce the soil in your vegetable garden and flower beds thaws out and can be worked, give it a light forking over to loosen it. Hopefully you did mulch it in wintertime which will help to have kept the soil loose and aerated.

You’ll also want to top off the beds with fresh compost, manure or other amendments. If you need to add lime to combat acidic soil so that your brassicas (broccoli, cabbage family) will grow well, add that now to give it time to start breaking down before you seed or transplant.

If you grew cover crops in winter, you will want to cut down the crop and lightly till under the foliage at least a few weeks before you start planting again.

With the warmer weather and longer days you may find weeds starting to grow in your beds. Keep in mind the best time to weed and keep up with it, so that weeds don’t get a chance to become established. Once they do it’s harder to get rid of them.

Jump-start Your Irrigation System

Turn on your sprinkler and drip or micro irrigation systems and test for leaks, etc. Make sure your timer is set correctly based on watering restrictions.

If you turned off the water to your outdoor water bibs, turn it back on again (but remember to close the bibs first!)

If you plan to install a new system, do so before the ground dries up as digging trenches for in-ground pipes in moist ground is easier. Just wait of course until the ground thaws before you try digging!

If you have rainwater collection barrels, start using the water to water container plants and seedlings.

And make sure you have a decent garden hose. If you’re not sure which kind to get, check out my recommendation.

Get Your Greenhouse Ready 

cedar lean-to greenhouseIf you added any additional insulation for over winter, you can now remove it.

Clean the greenhouse well to get rid of overwintering bugs, disease and organize for the growing season. I have a separate post on Greenhouse Cleanup: How To Get A Good Jump On The Growing Season

Ensure that ventilation systems are working properly. This includes automatic vent openers that open windows when the temperature rises and any ventilation fans.

Make sure you have shade cloth or shade paint ready before the summer to cut down on the sun’s rays which can quickly over-heat a greenhouse.

Take Care of Your Container Plants

If you’ve been storing container plants of flowers and perennial herbs in your garage, basement, kitchen (!) or greenhouse or cold frame, now it’s time to get those containers ready to put outside again.

First trim off any old foliage that is damaged, dead or too long. Giving plants a haircut will encourage new growth. Just make sure you are not cutting too much away as some plants bloom from old wood.

Improve the soil. In some cases it makes sense to repot the plants in new soil. Or you can simply add some new soil on top as well as some slow release granular fertilizer and mix that lightly in. When you water the nutrients will percolate through the soil. 

Be sure to add mulch (fine bark mulch works well) to conserve moisture and reduce weed seed germination. And then finally give them a good water.

Once you’re sure there is no more danger of frost, move the plants outside gradually. If you need to know what your last frost date is, find that here: US Frost Dates and Canada Frost Dates

Ideally you want to harden them off by moving them outside a few hours at first, then gradually extending the time outside until they can be left out. As you harden them off keep them in light shade to avoid sun scorch. Introduce them to full sun gradually.

Need a handy Spring Cleanup & Preparation Checklist to ensure you don’t miss an important step this spring?

Just one of the many cheatsheets, worksheets, checklists and guides in the Homegrown Resources Library.

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Start Seeding!

Now is the time to seed your summer crops of vegetables! 

Get started by following Seed Starting: The Definitive Guide for Beginners.

Cleanup The Garden

Hopefully you already did a general cleanup in fall.

However there will be some winter damage, such as branches that fell down, heavy snow damage and general debris. Time to clean that up, compost what you can and shred/chip any branches into mulch.

If you did add protection around sensitive plants such as burlap or a pile of leaves, time to remove that but make sure to check the weather forecast and be aware of your last frost date. Better to wait a bit longer if you need to so that you don’t risk killing anything.

If you added banding around your fruit trees, best to remove it now to avoid having beneficial insects or young birds get stuck in it.

If you grow roses, those may need a light pruning to get them ready to produce blooms. I’m mainly looking for winter damage or winter die-off of branches. You should have done your major pruning in fall after they stopped blooming.

Turn Compost

Now is the time also to turn your compost. In winter your compost likely hasn’t done much decomposing in the colder weather, so a turn at this time of year will activate it. 

Plus if you do have finished compost, you can use it to top off your garden beds.

Cleanup and Organize Your Garden Shed

Garden shedNormally tool cleaning and maintenance should be done year-round and any serious work such as sharpening, fixing handles and lubricating should be done in fall/winter as an indoor activity.

However if you neglected to do so, now is the time to look at all of your tools and make sure they are ready for hard work in spring. You may also want to take advantage of tool sales in spring to upgrade your tools.

Finally make sure you have all the supplies you need. Not sure what you need? Check out 21 Useful Gardening Supplies To Keep In Stock

Enjoy the smells, sounds and sights of your garden as it springs back to life knowing that your garden is ready for the explosion of growth after doing your spring garden cleanup!

And remember to pace yourself. It’s easy to get carried away! Grab some items as I mention in 5 Useful Items To Bring When You Work In The Garden, keep track of the time (or not) and have fun!

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  1. Thanks for all this great information! We’re probably at least 6 weeks away from being able to actually plant veggies and flowers here in Colorado. But on nice days, we can get started in cleaning-up and prepping the gardens.

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