It’s hard to believe that spring is here – these persistent cool temps and gray skies would say otherwise. But my garden knows better – buds about to burst, perennials peeking through. The new gardening season has officially begun.

spring checklist, ligularia foliage

If you’re like me, you get overwhelmed with all there is to do in the garden right now. But don’t worry – I’ve drawn up a simple ‘”spring checklist” to prepare for the busy months ahead:

Clean up. Remove all debris from your beds and cut down any perennials that were left up over the winter. Then break up and rake out the old mulch.

Thin out. Divide any perennials that you didn’t tend to last fall. Dig up clumps that have gotten too big, didn’t thrive last season or have sprung up in areas where they’re not wanted. You can either replant the divisions or give them to friends.

spring checklist, tulip buds

Amend. It’s a good idea to amend the soil in your beds every year. Organic matter such as manure or compost, generously worked in, enriches the soil and provides an optimum environment for both new and existing plants. To further enhance your soil, add a generous layer of:

Mulch. Mulch offers numerous benefits to your garden during the growing season. Applied in a layer 2-4” thick, mulch:

* regulates the soil temperature and retains moisture
* suppresses weeds
* prevents “splash up” of soil onto foliage
* provides a neat and finished appearance to the garden
* adds organic matter to the garden as it decomposes

Be careful not to mound the mulch up against tree trunks or plant crowns (which can encourage rot and infestation), and avoid the foundation of your house (where mulch can invite termites).

spring checklist, astilbe foliage

Prune. Late-season plants such as Sedum “Autumn Joy”, Chrysanthemum and Joe-pye weed spend most of the summer growing, and by fall have often gotten too tall and require staking. In addition, they tend to produce only a few blooms atop their too-tall stalks, resulting in a somewhat ungainly appearance.

By cutting back the entire plant by one half to one third in the spring, the plant will branch out and develop more (if somewhat smaller) flowers. It will also be sturdier, with a more attractive shape that will be less likely to flop (and need staking – I hate staking).

Some summer-blooming shrubs can also be pruned now, to promote more vigorous growth and increased blooms. Shrubs such as Butterfly bush (Buddleia), Blue-mist shrub (Caryopteris), Smokebush (Cotinus) will benefit from being cut back now. Books and the internet provide excellent information on the specific pruning needs of each plant.

spring checklist, allium buds

Plant! Spring is a great time to start planting perennials. The nurseries are not as crowded now, and once the perennials are out on display, they’re ready to plant. The cooler weather minimizes transplant shock and gives new plants time to establish before summer sets in. You can also plant cold-tolerant annuals such as pansies, Johnny jump-ups and alyssums for an instant burst of color.

spring checklist, loosestrife foliage

And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to put out your peony hoops (I know, every year you SAY you’re going to do it – well this year just do it!)……

spring checklist, peonies, peony hoops

If you’d like to go more “in depth”, click on the links below. And you can always ask any gardening questions you may have right here!

So throw on a few warm layers and take advantage of these cooler days to get out there and get your garden ready for summer. It will be hot and humid soon enough, and you’ll be thankful that you did.

How to divide perennials.
The importance of mulch (and my favorite mulch to use in my gardens and planters).
How (and when) to cut back perennials and shrubs.
My favorite gardening books.


  1. Elizabeth Leach on April 22, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Thanks, Sheri. Very helpful!

    • sherisilver on April 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Thanks; so glad to hear it! 🙂

  2. Liz on April 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Sheri! Great advice! I always say I’m going to put up my peony hoops and I always forget. I will do it tonight! Thank you.

    Do you know the best time to divide peonies? After they bloom?

    One thing I just recently learned: the wood mulch you get at the the box stores can breed a fungus that can stain your house and car. This guy recommends mulching with shredded leaves instead:

    Of course you have to had thought ahead last fall for that. Which I didn’t. :-0

    Is the Sweet Peet moss you recommend made of composted leaves? It looks like it has manure, which is always good!

    • sherisilver on April 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Ha! You’re welcome! 🙂 Peonies do NOT like to be disturbed – either through division or transplanting. That said, if you must divide, do so in the fall. As for the Sweet Peet, it’s composted manure – it actually turns into humus, which promotes plant growth. It’s 100% organic and it’s all I use in my beds – let me know if you have any other questions!

Leave a Comment