Despite the chilly temperatures on the forecast and bare branches overhead, spring is just around the corner! And before it gets here, there are several ways you can prepare your garden for its arrival. That way, you can spend the first warm sunny days doing the more fun tasks, like planting, watering, mowing the lawn, and our favorite: sipping coffee on the patio.
To help you prepare your yard for the growing season, here are some chores you can do in the next few weeks! Take a weekend or two to tackle all of these tasks for a smooth transition into this glorious season.
Clear Out Debris
Over the course of the fall and winter, debris has likely accumulated in your garden beds, lawn and deck or patio — like dead leaves, twigs, dead plants, or even big branches. Take some time to remove them from your yard, to allow water and sun to reach the new growth that will be coming up soon. Not to mention, it gives your space a much cleaner, well-maintained look. You can save all that material for a composting bin — or to use as kindling for your fire pit!
Test + Amend Your Soil
Soil is one of the most important elements of a successful garden. Consider getting your soil tested using a soil test kit (available at any home improvement store) to determine its pH level and nutrient content. This will help you make informed decisions about what plants to grow and what fertilizers to use. Based on the results of your soil test, you can amend your soil with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve its fertility and structure.
Prune Trees + Shrubs
Prune any trees or shrubs that have become unruly before they start to leaf out. It seems counterintuitive, but this will help to promote healthy growth and of course, improve their overall appearance. It may be too late for some early bloomers, but there are several plants that are several weeks — or months — away from sprouting!
Plan Out Your Garden
Take some time to plan out your garden and decide what plants you want to grow this year, from fruits, vegetables and herbs, to any new plants and flowers you want to introduce to your garden, including both perennials and annuals. Consider factors such as sunlight, soil type, and water requirements when selecting your plants. You can consult this list of plants native to the Southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, which will grow well in the Ann Arbor area — and attract local insects and pollinators!
Start Seeds Indoors
If you’ve been in Michigan a while, you know it can often be too cold at the start of spring to plant seeds directly into our garden beds. Generally, it’s a good idea to plant seeds indoors about 6-10 weeks before the last frost date, which is usually around mid-May. So mid-March is an excellent time to start seedlings inside before transitioning them to their outdoor environment in May or June, when the soil has warmed up to about 70 degrees. Here are some helpful instructions for starting seedlings indoors!
Remove Dead Perennial Leaves
Encourage new growth by removing any straggling dead matter hanging off dormant perennials. Any branches that easily tear off are usually dead and should be removed — as well as any dried brown leaves or flowers. This allows the plant to focus its energy and resources on growing brand new leaves and flowers for this season!
Gather Dead Leaves
Gather the layer of dead leaves that has likely accumulated on all surfaces of your backyard — but don’t bag them! Leaves play an integral role in the health of your garden’s ecosystem by returning nutrients back into the soil in a cyclical manner. So they are actually best when left alone! But you can mow over them to break them down into smaller pieces, so they don’t block as much sunlight from reaching your grass and plants, and they will naturally decompose over time.
Prepare Planting Beds
If you have raised beds or other planting areas, prepare them by pulling out weeds, loosening the soil, and adding any necessary amendments. Once the ground has thawed, you can more easily work the soil by tilling and turning it using a tiller or sharp spade. This is also a good time to apply fertilizer to any trees, shrubs or perennials, and add a layer of compost to improve the soil’s nutrient content, texture and moisture retention.
Add a Layer of Mulch
Speaking of mulch, this is a good time to apply a layer of mulch to your garden beds to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. This will also give a fresh, clean-cut look to your garden beds!
Consider starting a compost pile or bin to recycle kitchen and garden waste into rich, nutrient-dense compost for your garden. Not only does this reduce food waste, but it will pay off in years to come, as you’ll be improving the quality of your soil with much-needed minerals and nutrients.
If you’re an Ann Arbor resident, you can pick up a free compost cart in 64-gallon or 96-gallon sizes from the Customer Service Center! In it, you can put all of your compostable materials — such as food waste, leaves and brush, grass clippings and more — and have it picked up during the weekly compost collection. To learn more about the process and find a full list of compostable materials, click here.
Clean + Sharpen Tools
Take some time to clean and sharpen your gardening tools, such as pruners, shovels, and hoes, to ensure that they are ready for use when you need them. While you’re at it, you can clean and reorganize your garden shed, taking inventory of your tools and gardening supplies so you’re ready to hit the ground running!
Now comes the best part: appreciating all your hard work and beautifying it with new flowers, plants and outdoor furnishings. We hope you have a wonderful spring!
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