Taking Care of Closet Business
Wrapping Things Up

Spring Cleaning in the Garden

Welcome to the Friday edition of . . . 

Spring Cleaning Week

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”
  --- Kate Morton

There is one very big reason I’m not so good at Spring Cleaning.

My Garden.

When the weather starts to warm up, and the snow melts away, my garden calls me. Often . . . and loudly. And taking care of chores in my garden will ALWAYS win out over taking care of chores in my house! And there is so much to DO in the garden in the spring -- even in the earliest part of spring. In fact, the earlier I can get out there and start working on my spring clean-up chores in the garden, the better off I’ll be when things really start exploding in May.

I know many of you are happy gardeners, too . . . so I decided to focus one day of Spring Cleaning Week on garden chores. Join me today as I bring you some tips to help you tackle your “spring cleaning” . . . in the garden.

Let’s begin with some advice from Martha Stewart, maven of all garden chore lists.

“Even with a winter chill still in the air, there are plenty of tasks to start handling now if you want to get your garden in shape by the time the temperatures rise. A few words to the wise: Walking on or digging in soil when it is still too frozen and wet may compact it, and plant roots need soil to live their best lives. So, if the ground is still too hard or fully saturated with water, be patient.”
  --- from MarthaStewart.com|Garden

Martha’s tips for garden “spring cleaning” (with some of my own tips thrown in) include:

  • Survey your yard and garden. 
    • Check out your trees to assess limb damage from the winter. You can also do some judicious tree pruning -- it’s much easier to prune before they’re leafed out for the season. (NOTE: If you have a spring-blooming tree, don’t prune it in the spring.) (And if you live somewhere with Oak Wilt -- like here in Michigan -- do NOT prune your oak trees at all between April and November.)
    • Cut back any of last season’s perennial foliage (if you left it for winter-interest). Be sure to add these cuttings to your compost pile if you have one. (And if you don’t, maybe you want to start one??? See below!)
    • You can rake mulch from garden areas with bulbs. It’s much easier to spruce things up before the foliage - and blooms - get really going.
    • Check your hardscape: fences, paths, patios, structures, etc. for any winter damage. Make plans for any repairs that need to happen.
  • Give your garden tools a tune up.
    • Gather your garden tools and check them out before the season gets going. Make sure you know where everything is, and make notes of any tools that need to be replaced. Maybe oil your pruners. Make sure you have enough garden gloves. That kind of thing.
  • Note the gaps in your garden and do some planning.
    • Spring is a great time to plan ahead. What new perennials, shrubs, or trees might you want to add to your landscape this season?
    • Alternatively, are there any things you’d like to dig out to transplant (or even pass along to a gardening friend)? It’s easy to dig out shrubs or larger plants in the spring -- before everything leafs out and your garden fills in.
    • Make lists of plants you’re looking for this season, so you can be ready when it’s time to hit the nurseries again.
  • Think about your lawn.
    • If you mow your lawn, make sure your lawn mower and related lawn equipment is all ready to go for another season. Get the blade sharpened, if needed. Make sure everything starts up again.
    • If you hire a service to mow for you, make sure you’ve contracted with them well before the mowing season begins. (Same with arborists, fertilizing services, and irrigation systems.)
    • Make plans for fertilizing your lawn. Purchase necessary products or contract with a lawn service. Mark your calendar for the recommended treatment dates in your area if you do it yourself. (Here’s a quick-and-dirty fertilizer schedule for northern lawns.) (Timing is important.)
    • Check out your hoses and sprinklers so they’ll be ready when you need them.
  • Prune shrubs.
    • Spring is a great time to do some pruning. It’s so much easier to see what you’re doing before there are leaves on the shrubs. Go ahead and take out dead, damaged, or diseased branches. But before you go much further . . . make sure you know the right pruning time for your shrub. (This is tricky - and one of the things I get asked most often as a Master Gardener. I’m including some handy shrub-pruning links below, but basically . . . don’t prune a spring-flowering shrub - forsythia, lilac, weigela, or quince, for exampleuntil AFTER it blooms.)
  • Prepare new garden beds.
    • Once the soil is warm enough to work, you can start prepping new beds for planting this year. Here’s Martha’s advice: “Clear the planting area as soon as soil can be worked, removing sod or weeds and debris. Spread a 4-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure and any amendments over soil, and cultivate it to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spading fork. Rake it smooth before planting.”
  • Fertilize your existing garden beds.
    • As your garden wakes up, it’ll appreciate a little fuel. You can apply a balanced fertilizer (the numbers on the container should be 6-6-6 or 8-8-8) around trees and shrubs when new growth appears. You can spread high-acid fertilizer or pine-needle mulch around acid-loving shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons. Start fertilizing your perennials when active growth starts.
  • Tend to your compost pile. (Or start one.)
    • I usually poke around a lot in my compost pile in the spring -- just to get things "cooking" again. Tom “harvests” compost from the bin for me, and then we start throwing things back in again, ready for another season of garden waste. (We use compost all over in the garden. We add a healthy serving of compost to every plant we put in the ground, and we spread it in our beds in the spring. We supplement our own supply of compost with bags of composted cow manure - it doesn't smell, by the way - that we stock up on each spring. Compost . . . is my biggest "garden secret.")
    • If you’re interested in starting a compost pile of your own, there is lots of helpful information online. You can start with this informative article if you want to learn more.
  • Clean Your Bird Feeders and Bird Baths
    • If you’ve already established yourself as a bird-friendly location, now is a great time to give your feeders a refresh. You can disinfect the feeders by scrubbing them with a weak bleach solution (¼ cup bleach: 2 gallons warm water). Rinse and let the feeders dry thoroughly before refilling them.
    • Scrub your birdbaths with the same bleach solution, then rinse them thoroughly and refill, changing the water weekly. 
    • Clean your bird baths and feeders regularly throughout the season. (I’ve never paid much attention to cleaning my feeders . . . until my daughter had to stop feeding her birds altogether this spring, as California is battling a bird-salmonella disease that is killing songbirds. I’ll be taking much better care of my birds this summer . . . )

No wonder I never feel like cleaning the INSIDE of my house . . . when there’s so much to do OUTSIDE in my garden! (And even though chores are chores, they just feel so much more like FUN out in the garden.)


And now, those pruning tips I promised:

  1. Check out the excellent Pruning Demystified guide from Proven Winners.
  2. Here’s some other good general shrub-pruning advice.
  3. And here is some pruning advice specifically about hydrangeas.
  4. And here is advice specifically about pruning your clematis.

How about you? Do you prefer spring gardening chores . . . or spring in-the-house chores more?


Spring Cleaning Gardening Tip of the Day

Be ready to take cover if freezing temperatures are in the forecast. If you garden in an area where late spring frosts and freezes are a possibility, be prepared to cover up plants that have tender emerging buds or foliage if freezing temps are in the forecast. If the buds haven’t begun to open yet, there’s no need to cover them. Old sheets and towels that have been relegated to the rag pile are a good option, and professional row cover is available for purchase, too. DO NOT cover tender plants with plastic sheeting or tarps. The effect of the plastic touching the newly emerging buds and foliage will magnify the cold’s effect, rather than mitigate it.   (Today's tip is from Proven Winners.)

Have a good spring cleaning - inside OR outside - tip of your own, or some spring cleaning advice you'd like to share? Please pass it along in the comments -- and I'll share in my post on Friday Monday! (I know I said I'd do this on Friday - today. But it's gonna be Monday.)


Links to other posts in my Spring Cleaning series:

An Introduction and Some History of Spring Cleaning

Rolling Up Your Sleeves and Coming Up With Your Strategy

Finding Your Organizational Style

Taking Care of Closet Business



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Some maid services offer one-time major cleanings. Maybe you can hire one of those twice a year -spring and fall (or before Christmas) ) - so that you can fully enjoy those two seasons. As I’ve gotten older the need to be a super-conscientious housewife has faded quite a bit, but I still like a clean house. The cost is more, but amortized over six months is quite a bit less than bi-weekly visits. You are still quite young compared to me but given how much you love your garden which is a joy to both you and Tom....may be a compromise to think about.


This! Yes! I always joke that I could care less if my own bed is messy and unmade, but my garden beds??? They get MUCH more attention....... this time of year it's like greeting old friends as things start popping up.... it's a lot of work, and I sometimes wonder when I'll get too old to continue maintaining all that I've planted over the years.


Your information on cleaning the house AND the garden is detailed and exemplary! I've made notes of areas to target inside this spring, but my joy will come from changing out the ground cover in my front garden to blossoming perennial plants for height, color and effect. I don't know exactly what I'm doing but I know what I'm shooting for and I'm expecting a fun garden year. Thanks for all the info and encouragement, Kym!


My CSA usually offers a variety of herb plants to their members, but this year, in addition, they're offering other veg plants -- squash, tomatoes, peppers, etc. I have ordered some, so will need to get a few areas in shape & ready. Luckily, they also sent out a "prep your garden" email this week. I feel like I have some good resources heading into spring... and outside!


Now this is a Spring Cleaning post I will actually do something with! We're staying in MD this weekend, so in a few minutes I am putting on my short overalls (it's already 72 here with a predicted high of 78!) and getting outside to prune and clean up the flower beds. It will be good to get all the old oak leaves out of the beds and move a few things around. Happy Spring Gardening!


I'm hoping this year is finally the year I get some usable compost out of my composter. It's been good for reducing food waste that I throw away, but I'm pretty hands off about it, so anything that's broken down is probably way down at the bottom.

I'm also hoping to do a bit more in my garden this year. Last year we finally had the landscapers remove an ugly evergreen that was at the corner of the house and slowly growing into the driveway, so now I have a little space that gets lots of sun where I can plant something!


This is exactly what I needed today! Our upcoming forecast is mixed, but I still want to get out there and do what I can. Because it looks dreary now, but under all that leaf mulch my tulips are coming like gangbusters. And I want to enjoy them! Happy spring clean-up! And thanks!!


I have been out in my garden this week! It felt so darned good! I have some things to dig up, but it was just a bit too wet to do so. Sigh. But I am with you... I'd much rather be outdoors than indoors ever! :)

Great links... thank you so much for sharing them!


I think I'm more of a spring in the house cleaner. We had a new dishwasher installed yesterday. That meant the kitchen floor needed mopping when they were done. I was so inspired I did all the floors. That was SUCH a good feeling. I love freshly mopped floors.

I did pull some weeds in the front garden. Best to get them early before they really get going. I noticed my Black Eyed Susans and Echinacea are just starting to pop up from the soil. The clematis is started and the rock rose is all leafed out. The daffs are blooming. Spring must be here.


My general reaction to this post is feeling overwhelmed! I have contacted my landscaping guy for a spring clean up, mulch, and he will also fertilize the lawn. I have some major work to do in the perennial garden at the back of the house and also the area by the kitchen door. Overwhelmed. Yep.


This has been such a great series, Kym - inspiring, helpful, and up-beat ... just like Spring! thank you!

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