Garden Variety: Spring gardening to-do's

Spring is finally here and our “spring fever” has reached an apex. The average frost date is not until April 20, and soil should not be worked when it is wet, but other than that, the time has come. Below are some general items to start your gardening season with. Cleaning up is the most important task, so hold off on the season starters even though this is where our temptation pulls us.

General cleanup

  • Cut ornamental grasses back to 3-5 inches before new growth starts.
  • Clean flower beds, removing the blown in leaves and the dead foliage. This prevents the rebirth and regrowth of many insects and potential problems (this is especially true for iris).
  • Remove winter mulch on old roses.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • Remove tree stakes if the planting is more than a year old. Cut off all ropes and wire.
  • Remove dead or injured branches and generally prune trees if needed.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs (i.e. forsythia, lilac) only after they bloom.
  • Mow to remove winter debris but not more than a half-inch less than your turf recommendation.
  • Refresh the mulch around trees and perennial plants.
  • Clean water gardens and restart the pumps. Plants can now be set off the bottom and onto the marginal shelf.

Season starters

  • Get a soil test. This will provide a good look at what your soil needs in the way of nutrients.
  • Add compost to help build the soil for improved growth.
  • If weeds are an issue with you, a broadleaf herbicide can be applied now to help control weeds like dandelions, henbit and chickweed.
  • Crabgrass preventers can be effective now, but don’t do this if you plan to over-seed.
  • Water only if it is extra dry. Over-watering now makes turf weak.
  • At this point in the year, lawn fertilization is not recommended. Fall is the proper time to fertilize.
  • Cut flowering branches (forsythia, pussy willow) to enjoy inside.
  • Fertilize spring bulbs. (Bone meal works well.)
  • Plant cool-loving annuals (i.e. pansies, snapdragons, calendulas).
  • Start seeds of annuals inside to transplant outside after danger of frost or sow directly in the ground after last frost.
  • Prune apple, pear and cherry trees when temperatures are above 20 degrees; peach and nectarines just prior to blooming. Prune grapes, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Uncover strawberries when new growth begins (be ready to cover with fabric at night if threat of frost).
  • Plant cool-weather crops: onions, lettuce, radishes, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, cabbage.

— Stan Ring is the Horticulture Program Assistant for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Extension Master Gardeners can help with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or


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