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This News section contains information that has appeared in a monthly newsletter, pertaining only to Club members.  The newest articles appear at the top of the page.  Each entry is categorized for easy sorting and archiving.

Guide to Spring Garden Prep

Molly Dixon

1. Order summer bulbs & seeds

  • Prepare to plant summer-flowering bulbs such as AlliumGladiolusRanunculus.
  • Sow warm-weather vegetables & annuals indoors before last frost date. Pre-soak larger seeds & seeds with thick coats e.g. beets and nasturtium the night before you sow them.

2. Clean gardening tools

  • If you didn’t thoroughly clean & sharpen tools in the fall before retiring them, make sure they are clean before planting to prevent spreading disease, fungus or insect eggs throughout garden. Remove rust & clumps of soil from tools using a hard-bristle brush; hose down & dry before storing.
  • Again, if you didn’t sharpen tools last fall, do so now to improve their performance; lubricate & replace broken handles.
  • Inspect hoses & nozzles for any holes or tears.

3. Fix fences, gates & trellis

  • This is done much more easily when foliage is absent.

 4. Clean up flower beds and borders

  • A month before planting, clean garden area so everything is ready to go as soon as it’s time to start working the soil.
  • Clear out weeds, leaves, dead growth & debris from flower beds & vegetable gardens, allowing new growth to be exposed. Remove dead annuals that remained over winter (dead plant matter is a key support. system for pollinators and insects).
  • Remove excess winter mulch.

5. Hunt down garden pests

  • Look closely at crowns of perennials to find slugs, snails and aphid colonies sheltering for the winter.
  • Get rid of pests early before they infect plants; removing hibernating pests now saves trouble come spring & summer.

6. Stake

  • Stake peonies, hollyhocks, delphiniums, daisies, phlox, asters, coneflowers.
  • Stake early so that plants grow into stakes rather than being squeezed in later.
  • Set stakes clear of root mass to avoid disturbing emerging shoots.

7. Prune

  • Average last frost date for Cuyahoga County is May 15th, so if you are working back, early April is your target. 
  • Wait until danger of a hard frost is past before pruning then prune gently, cutting as close to the new growth as you can, without damaging.
  • If no new growth is coming up, cut dead stems as low as possible to allow new growth to come to the surface.
  • Most woody perennials will let you know when it's time to prune them by showing signs of opening buds on the lower stem portions or new growth at the base of the plants.
  • Woody perennials should be pruned to maximize growth & produce new blooms.  Prune just above the new growth.
  • Prune roses just before they start to bud out.
  • To deter insects, dead & diseased branches should be removed throughout season whenever seen, but especially after new growth has begun on shrubs & trees.
  • Prune mature stems to encourage new healthy growth, leaving younger stems in to flower.
  • Prune spring bloomers, e.g. forsythia & rhododendrons, as needed soon after flowering is complete.
  • Thin & shape hedges after first flush of new spring growth.

8. Divide and transplant

  • Transplant (or plant) deciduous shrubs in April & May while they’re dormant.
  •  Dig wide berth around shrub; take as much of root ball as possible for quicker establishment in new location.
  • Dig new hole a few inches wider & add compost or organic fertilizer. Transplant then fill in around sides with lightly. compacted soil to promote lateral root growth.
  • Water well after planting.
  • Divide perennials when shoots are 2 to 4 inches tall.
  • Share/trade plants with neighbors & friends but be mindful of sharing pests, disease, and weeds.
  • Prepare new beds for perennials by spreading 6” of organic matter (e.g. peat moss, compost, rotted manure); work in deeply.
  • Mulch to prevent weed growth.  Mulch should be applied around but not over sprouting root mass of each plant.

9. Amend soil

  • Taking time in spring to build fertility & loosen soil will set you up for a more productive year.
  • Wait for ground to thaw.
  • Soil should be slightly crumbly, without excess water, & all signs of frost should be gone.
  • Test soil before adding things to it to determine which nutrients the soil is lacking, & add missing nutrients.
  • Nitrogen promotes green/chlorophyll; Phosphorus promotes root.
  • Alter pH depending on your plants (e.g. rhodies & blueberries require more acid soil; clematis & deutzia require more alkaline soil).
  • If adding lime, dolomite is the finest grind & is recommended. Ground limestone takes longer to benefit plants.  “Hydrate lime” changes soil pH so rapidly that plants may be damaged.
  • Neutral soil pH allows microbes & worms to prosper & organic matter to break down; fertilizer is more effective at a neutral pH.
  • If you have rich, healthy soil, all you need is top dressing with compost, manure or a complete slow release organic fertilizer.
  • Established beds have a complex soil ecosystem which is best left undisturbed.  Nutrients added from the top will work their way down into soil.
  • Most plants enjoy a good feeding in spring when they have their initial growth spurt.


  • When soil has warmed up, add 2 – 3” of mulch. If adding or dividing plants, omit this last step until you're ready.
  • Can be used in conjunction with compost to create exceptionally healthy soil.
  • Can be made from a variety of organic matter, including shredded leaves, hay, and grass clippings.
  • Mulch conserves water, cools plant roots, feeds soil & smothers weeds. Cedar mulch is a natural mosquito repellent. 
  • Not all mulch provides nutrition. Pine bark mulch temporarily reduces nitrogen in soil but replaces it in the long run.  Never use dyed mulch. Finished compost enriches humus in the soil & is the best to option.
  • Applying 1” (or more) to top of soil provides a steady stream of nutrients as the mulch decomposes.
  • Keep mulch away from stems & crowns of plants. If you’re hoping for self-seeding volunteers, give them a chance to germinate before you cover bed with mulch.
  • Cover bare spots in beds with 3 – 4” of mulch to minimize emergence of new weeds.
  • Mulch makes garden & yard look neat & tidy.
  • Weeds will be easiest to pull now, as roots are shallow.
  • The finishing touch in the spring is edging. Crisp edges make garden bed look polished & prevents lawn from crawling into flower bed.

Organic fertilizer

  • After laying compost, apply a granular fertilizer, preferably before a gentle rain. Rain helps break down the fertilizer as it is slowly releasing into the soil.
  • Use fertilizer that is either 10-10-10 or 10-15-10. First number is nitrogen, second number is phosphorus (phosphate), last number is potassium (potash). All 3 ingredients are essential to the happiness of your plants.
  • To spread fertilizer, use conventional spreader or make your own, (old Parmesan cheese container or used milk container with holes punched in the bottom).
  • To prevent plant stems & foliage from 'burning', spread fertilizer around base of the plants, but make sure it doesn't make direct contact with stems or leaves.
  • Light feeders with shallow roots, e.g. lettuce, will be fine with small amount of fertilizer raked into top 2 - 3” of soil.
  • For widely spaced plants with big nutrient appetites, e.g. cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes & peppers, enrich individual planting holes with mixture of compost & organic fertilizer just before you set out seedlings.
  • For very heavy feeders, e.g. sweet corn, use hoe to make deep trenches in beds, & place fertilizer in trenches so it will be directly below germinating seeds.


  • A few weeks before planting, add 1” compost to top of soil.  “Scratch” in gently to avoid upsetting ecosystem & microbes.
  • Improves soil’s health in every way, from providing crops with the nutrition they need to improving water drainage
  • Incredibly rich in nutrients


Click here for a printable copy of this guide.