Spring arrived on the calendar in March but it hasn’t arrived in the real life Pacific Northwest. Rain, cooler-than-usual temperatures, wind. We’ve experienced a prolonged late winter here. Still, daffodils and tulips are blooming. My hostas are emerging. The hydrangeas are leafing out. Plants know the warm sunny days are coming. So despite the cloudy cold, I’ve been chipping away at my list of garden chores to prepare for more inspiring days. Here they are in no particular order.
Rake leaves. Slugs and snails are nesting beneath my oak leaves. Other better critters too. But to keep diseases at bay, I clean up in early spring. This makes me happy as I see the bare earth. I note where I need to weed and fill in plant blanks lost to freezing temperatures (or in my case, doggy damage).
Start tomato plants indoors. This year I’m trying something new. I’m growing tomatoes both in my raised beds and in containers so I can move the containers indoors for winter. I really want fresh tomatoes in winter! My entire family misses their sweet taste. Grocery store tomatoes are usually bland because they’re bred to last and to not split. So I’m starting my usual ‘Juliet’ and ‘Yellow Pear’ and ‘Sungold’ tomatoes in containers. I’ll grow ‘Early Beefsteak’ and ‘Early Girl’ cherry tomatoes outside. All of these cultivars are excellent for our short Northwest summers. I don’t experiment too much with heirloom varieties like ‘Mr. Stripey’ or ‘Brandywine.’ Though they taste great, they’re a little fussier to grow. I stick to the easy basics.
Prune back shrubs and trees. Spring is the best time to prune. As new leaves emerge, it’s easy to see where dead or diseased branches are. Start by cutting those non-leafing branches out. Cut off leftover stubs. Move onto branches that cross each other, then think about size. A safe rule is to prune back by a third and no more. If you’re a newbie, stick with that. See my article here about easy plants to cut back.
Weed the lawn and fertilize with natural fertilizer. Dandelion flowers are about to bloom if they’re not already blooming in your yard. One dandelion head produces 50-200 seeds. If you weed them out now, you’re insuring fewer will come back next spring. In my busiest years when my kids were little, I couldn’t weed. So I played a game with them. They pulled out blooming dandelion heads and put them in a bucket. I paid 2 cents per head. They thought this was a great job, which it was. Each child could make between five and seven dollars. Though it didn’t cut down on the plants, it cut down on the plants multiplying. That, now years later, has enabled me to get the problem under control.
The last chore I often do is remove moss from my driveway, lawn, and garden beds. Moss, of course, loves damp air and moisture. Because we have a brief stand of woods in front of our house, the lawn grows a chartreuse carpet in winter. If I have a fair amount of free time, I rake the moss off the lawn and leave the weak grass strands to thicken, which they always do. (Applying lime is a temporary solution.) If I’m pressed for time, I take a flat shovel and only scrape the moss from the driveway. This ensures we’re not slipping and sliding as we walk around.
Don’t forget to ready yourself for the sun! In the Northwest, it seems the rain lasts forever. Then, with a bang, we’ll have 65 degrees and clear skies. It’s time to take the cover off the barbecue, sweep the patio, and wash down the outdoor table and chairs. Bring out the firewood from the garage, put the cushions on the lounge chairs. I’ve done this a few times for one day of warmth here and there, but soon I’ll do it once and won’t again. We’ll be living outside every evening and I’m looking forward to those fun spring times!