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How to Prepare Your Garden for Spring

March 4, 2024

How to Prepare Your Garden for SpringPrepare Your Garden for Spring” />

Clean up debris from last year

Now that winter is coming to an end, it’s time to assess the condition of your garden and start preparing for the growing season ahead. One of the first things I like to do is clear away any dead leaves, spent plants or other debris that may have accumulated over the fall and winter months. Removing this material accomplishes a few goals:

  • It eliminates places where disease or pests may overwinter. Getting a fresh start helps reduce the chances of problems emerging later on.
  • It opens up space and improves air circulation. Many plants appreciate having good airflow around them.
  • It improves the look and feel of your garden. Seeing freshly turned soil and open beds creates a sense of promise and renewal.

I recommend doing a thorough walkthrough of all your garden beds and borders. Rake away fallen leaves and pull out any dead annual plants or perennials that didn’t survive the winter. Prune back any damaged branches or stems on shrubs and trees. Compost as much of this material as possible. For diseased plants or invasive weeds, it’s best to throw them in the trash rather than composting.

Evaluate soil quality and add amendments

One of the keys to a successful garden is having rich, fertile soil. Spring is an excellent time to test your soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Home kits are widely available and provide valuable information on your soil’s condition. If tests reveal any deficiencies, incorporate some organic matter like compost or aged manure to improve nutrient levels and soil structure. I also review my garden records from the previous year to see which plants struggled or underperformed. This may indicate depleted soil in those areas, signaling a need for extra amendments.

Other possible amendments to work into soil in early spring include:

  • Compost: Adds beneficial microbes and slowly releases nutrients. Mix 1-3 inches into top 6 inches of soil.

  • Aged manure: Boosts macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Mix in 1-2 inches.

  • Peat moss: Improves moisture retention in sandy soils. Add up to 20% by volume.

  • Greensand: Provides long-term potassium source. Sprinkle up to 5 lbs per 100 sq ft.

  • Bone meal: Supplies phosphorus. Use 3-5 lbs per 100 sq ft.

  • Lime: Raises pH in acidic soils. Apply 10 lbs per 100 sq ft.

Taking time to analyze and enhance your garden’s soil will really pay off once growing season arrives. Plants will establish better, be healthier, and require less care and intervention on your part.

Plan crop rotation

Crop rotation is an excellent practice for each spring. By moving annual vegetable crops to a different part of your garden every 1-3 years, you prevent the depletion of soil nutrients associated with growing the same plants repeatedly in one spot. Rotation also helps break disease and pest cycles.

Here are some key rotation guidelines to follow:

  • Alternate heavy feeders and lighter feeders. Heavy feeders like tomatoes, broccoli and squash are rotated with lighter feeders like herbs, lettuce and peas.

  • Vary plant families. Do not follow one crop from the nightshade family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) with another from the same family the next year.

  • Plant cover crops. End the season by planting a cover crop like clover or rye on that year’s depleted beds. The cover crop roots will replenish nitrogen and organic matter.

As you plan this year’s layout, refer back to what was planted where in previous years. This simple practice will lead to healthier, more productive soil over time.

Start seeds indoors

One of the most exciting parts of spring garden preparation is starting seeds indoors under grow lights. Getting a jump start on the growing season allows you to cultivate more varieties, especially heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that need a long warm season.

Here are some tips for starting seeds successfully:

  • Choose the right starting medium – Use a sterile, soilless mix to avoid disease.

  • Use clean containers with drainage holes – Yogurt cups, cell packs and trays all work well.

  • Follow seed packet instructions – This includes planting depth, soil temperature, thinning and light needs.

  • Provide adequate moisture – Use a spray bottle to mist soil regularly without oversaturating.

  • Give sufficient light – Place seedlings just 2-4 inches under grow lights for 14-16 hours per day.

  • Watch temperatures – Heat mats or a warm spot like the top of a refrigerator may be needed for germination.

  • Prepare to harden off – Gradually acclimate seedlings to outdoor conditions before transplanting.

With some basic equipment and close attention, I’ve had great success growing many vegetable and flower varieties from seed. It’s also fun to involve kids in planting seeds and watching the magic of sprouts emerging. Just be sure to time plantings so that young plants are ready to go outside once your region’s last expected frost date has safely passed.

Perform maintenance pruning

Pruning in early spring prepares shrubs and trees for healthy new growth. It’s best to prune spring bloomers like lilacs and forsythia immediately after flowering. For other plants, focus on removing dead, damaged or crossing branches. Take out suckers growing straight up from the root zone and trim back old branches to stimulate new shoots.

Here are some tips for proper pruning:

  • Always use clean, sharp tools – Bypass pruners, loppers and saws that make clean cuts heal better than jagged tears.

  • Know where to make cuts – Cut just above outward facing buds or branches to direct growth. Prune to lateral branches or the ground.

  • Remove no more than 25% of live growth – Avoid overthinning that can harm plant health.

  • Shape plants while young – Establish desired form early through structural pruning.

  • Time pruning carefully – Either in late winter/very early spring before buds open, or in early summer after new growth emerges.

Take it slow, stepping back frequently to visualize how remaining branches will fill out. With careful, intentional cuts, maintenance pruning keeps plants looking their best while removing problem growth. It’s very satisfying to see how your pruned shrubs and trees respond with healthy new foliage and blooms when spring truly arrives.

Get tools and equipment in order

While our gardens lie dormant, it’s easy to forget about all the tools and equipment that bring them to life each year. Early spring is an excellent time to check supplies and equipment to ensure everything is cleaned, organized and in good working order before the busy growing season starts.

Here are some key tasks:

  • Clean, sharpen and oil all garden tools – Remove rust, splinters and dirt that can harbor plant diseases. Apply lubricating oil to shovels, shears, hoes and other implements. Sharpen all blades and replace worn parts if needed.

  • Inspect hoses, watering wands and sprinklers – Look for cracks, leaks or clogged nozzles and replace damaged items. Ensure hose gaskets and connections are in good shape.

  • Organize potting area – Sterilize pots and trays, restock seed-starting mix and inventory seed packets. Ensure grow lights are functional.

  • Check trellises and plant supports – Mend, scrub or replace as needed. Install new supports where required.

  • Maintain power equipment – Change oil, spark plugs, filters per owner’s manual instructions. Replace broken or missing parts.

  • Organize supplies – Take inventory of fertilizers, pest/disease control products, propagation materials. Discard anything outdated.

  • Clean up work surfaces – Sweep dirt and debris, sanitize greenhouse benches, hose off pavers. Eliminate hiding spots for pests.

Taking time for these garden maintenance tasks now means everything will be ready for action once the busy planting season begins!


Spring is such an invigorating time in the garden. While impatiently awaiting nature’s awakening, use these cooler early spring weeks to get set for the flurry of growing activity ahead. Clearing debris, amending soil, starting seeds, planning rotations, pruning, and tool maintenance may not seem glamorous. But approaching each task with care and intention will prepare your garden for optimal health, productivity and joy in the months to come.

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