Preparing a Perennial Garden for Spring

Preparing a Perennial Garden for Spring

By Michael Jenkins

In most of North America, we’re moving slowly towards the end of winter. For gardeners this is both an exciting and frustrating time—we can start thinking about and planning our spring gardens and maybe start some seeds, but it’s too early to get out there and really start working! But even with the cold yucky weather still upon many of us, there are some things we can do to get our gardens ready for spring. In particular, your perennials may benefit from some attention even this early in the year. So how can we best go about preparing a perennial garden for spring? Let’s dig in!

Let’s start with something that might be obvious, but does need to be said: when and how you start preparing your perennial gardens for warm weather depends on your location and climate. Warmer places may benefit from early prep, while it may still be too soon for more northerly locales. Regardless, it’s not too early to start planning how you’ll prepare for spring, so this blog will hopefully be a useful read for gardeners all over the country.

The first step in preparing your garden for spring is refreshing your memory. Take a look at your garden plan and do a thorough inspection to remind yourself of what plants are growing in your perennial garden spaces and where they are. You can also take this time to get a sense of what condition your plants, soil, and overall space are in following winter. While you’ll see and learn more as things thaw out, it’s OK to take a preliminary look when there’s still snow on the ground. As you do your inspection, you’ll want to clear away any unwanted debris, address any damage or structural issues, and get a sense of what you  might like to do this year. If you are inspired to make any changes, we strongly suggest taking some time to write down and plan out your garden goals just to keep things organized and running smoothly.

The next step in preparing your perennial garden for spring is addressing any landscaping changes you’d like to make. Examples of this include putting in new beds, or new edging, or any new landscaping features you might like—eg, building that terraced bed you’ve been thinking about. We’ll dig in to how to do that in a near-future blog for those unfamiliar. Now’s probably a bit early to plant new perennials, but you can definitely take a look at your existing plant and decide if you like their location or if they need some new friends.

Shrubs and trees are relatively easy to care for in spring, but what about more tender perennials that are still hiding underground? They’re probably not looking great right now—what’s left above ground will likely be dead leaves and stems from last year’s growth. Take heart, however: they’re most likely fine and just lying dormant beneath the soil. As the snow melts and the weather and soil get warmer, they should start to put out new growth for spring. You can help this process in a couple of ways. Firstly, after the risk of frost passes you can clear away any mulch or leaves to help the soil warm in the sun and make it a bit easier for new growth to push through. Do this carefully—it’s a time for gloves and working with your hands, not a rake! Clear the area around the plant gently and try to avoid disturbing the soil at first. From there, let the plant tell you what’s happening. As new growth appears, it may be time to gently trim away last year’s stems and leaves and move them to your compost heap. Again, location counts in several ways: plants in sunnier spots in the garden may wake up sooner as opposed to plants in shadier places, so observe and let your plants guide you.

Some plants may not survive the winter. This is natural and generally not a reflection on your skill as a gardener. If some of your plants didn’t make it, take a moment to appreciate that and then plan what to do with that space. If you did make a mistake, write down some notes about what happened, learn from it, and the plan your next gardening experiment. Gardening is a learning process and things happen along the way. As gardeners, our journey is one of learning, experimenting, and enjoying the process as much as the results.

We’re all getting ready for spring in our own ways, and we hope this blog helps you prepare and plan accordingly. If you’ve got some tips or tricks for helping your perennials get ready for spring, feel free to share them with us!

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