Prune Fruit Trees
Late Winter or Early Spring
Most fruit trees, including apples, pears, cherries, and peaches, benefit from being thinned every year. This encourages a more open habit that keeps the trees healthy and makes it easier to harvest the produce. The best time to prune is before new growth develops.
Pull Back Winter Mulch
If you spread a layer of winter mulch to protect your plants from heaving, you’ll want to remove it when plants begin to grow and danger of extreme winter temperatures has passed.
Test Garden Tip: Keep mulch or some type of covering handy to protect your plants in the case of an unseasonably late arctic blast.
In most regions, you’ll want to prune your roses just as or before new growth emerges from the canes. Cutting your roses back encourages strong, healthy shoots that will produce lots of blooms. A trim also gives the plants a more open habit, which helps them resist diseases such as black spot.
Plant Trees and Shrubs
Early, Mid-, or Late Spring
Spring’s cool, moist conditions make it the perfect time to add trees and shrubs to your yard. There are many reasons to grow trees and shrubs: They add value and beauty to your property; they can shade your home, reducing your summer energy bills; and if you select fruit-bearing varieties such as apples or blueberries, they supply food for your family.
Test Garden Tip: The most common mistake when planting trees and shrubs is planting them too deeply. The root flare, where the roots meet the trunk, should be at or just above the soil level.
Start Out with Cool-Season Annuals
Early or Midspring
Annual flowers fall into two categories: varieties that like it warm and varieties that like it cool. Most cool-season annuals, such as pansies and violas, nemesia, diascia, calendula, poppy, snapdragon, and sweet alyssum, can take a little frost. Plant them in beds and borders or containers and gain a few early weeks of color.
Test Garden Tip: Most cool-season annuals fade when summer heat arrives; replace them with heat-loving varieties, such as petunia, pentas, nasturtium, and lantana, for color all summer long.
Cut Back Ornamental Grasses
Cut back ornamental grasses to about 4 inches tall before or just as they put out new growth. This is also the time to divide ornamental grasses, if you wish to do so.
Test Garden Tip: Leave spent grass leaves on top of your compost pile so birds can easily access them to make nests.
Divide Overgrown Perennials
Early or Midspring
Give older perennials new life by dividing them. Dig up varieties (such as Siberian iris, aster, coreopsis, yarrow, and many hostas) that form dense clumps and split them apart. They’ll bloom better when they’re not crowding each other out — and you end up with more plants to fill in your yard or to share with friends and neighbors.
Test Garden Tip: You don’t need to worry about dividing peonies, bleeding hearts, baptisias, amsonias, or hellebores; these varieties do just fine on their own. Splitting them can set the plants back.
Growing plants from seed is a great way to save money. You can gain a few extra weeks if you start them early indoors, or keep it simple by sprinkling seeds in moist, loosened soil outdoors.
Test Garden Tip: If you don’t use all the seeds you purchase this spring, you can store most varieties in your freezer for planting next spring. A cool, dry place keeps them viable longer.
Grow Early Vegetables
Early or Midspring
While tomatoes, peppers, and squash love hot summer weather, you can plant carrots, radishes, spinach, and other cool-season varieties while there’s still a bit of frost in the air. They’ll withstand light freezes easily, but need to be covered if the temperature drops into the low 20s.
Stop Weeds When They’re Small
Early and Midspring
Weeding is usually voted gardening’s most arduous task, and as such, it’s often put off. But pull, hoe, or otherwise remove weeds while they’re little, and you’ll make the job considerably easier. Small root systems are less work to pull, and if you get them before they go to seed, you’ll have fewer weeds in the future.
Prune Summer-Flowering Shrubs
If any of your summer-blooming shrubs, such as butterfly bush, potentilla, and summersweet, are getting out of hand, give them a haircut in early spring. This won’t affect their blooms because they make their flowers on new growth.
Get Your Potatoes Going
Early spring is a great time to start spuds. You can get them in the ground earlier than you probably think — just wait until has warmed to about 45 degrees F or so. Plant most potatoes about 6 inches deep and 8-10 inches apart.
Make Records of Your Garden
Early, Mid-, and Late Spring
Fall is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. If you need to add color to fill in holes in your spring garden or include new plants to accent ones you already have, take pictures. That way you can refer back to them in autumn and know exactly where to plant.
When the soil has warmed up and dried out in spring, spread a 2-inch-deep layer of mulch (such as shredded wood, pine needles, or compost) over the soil surface to discourage weeds in your planting beds and hold moisture once hot summer days arrive.
Prune Spring-Blooming Shrubs
Mid- or Late Spring
Once your forsythia, camellias, lilacs, and mock oranges finish flowering for the season, give them a haircut if they need it. They start making next year’s floral display just a few weeks after they finish blooming, so cut them back as flowers fade so you won’t be disappointed next year.