We are now beginning in May in Douglasville, which I consider officially Spring! My gardens are fast approaching full regalia, the birds are building nests, and I just sighted an aged monarch butterfly visiting the early blooming flowers in my perennial garden (perhaps she has laid eggs?). It is my favorite time of year—and also my busiest! Once the soil has warmed, it is time to begin my spring garden to-do-list. Spring garden chores include general maintenance, propagation, fertilizing, and getting a jump on managing weeds and pests. Spring is also a time to plant bare root trees and plants.
In general, the greater Atlanta area can receive a lot of rain in the Spring, leaving the soil saturated. This can delay our gardening preparations as one risks compacting the soil, unless steps are taken to lay down stepping-stones or planks to walk on. As the soil dries, it is important to clear the area of dead leaves, plants, branches and needles. Also, if not already done in the fall, now is the time to clean, sharpen, and sanitize—then lightly oil garden tools for one of the earliest garden tasks for Spring—pruning!! Although heavy pruning is typically done in the fall, now is the time to address broken branches, and spent rose canes. It is also important to take stock of what has happened over the winter, which informs our to-do lists for the Spring. For example, check the fences, trellises and raised beds to ensure they have not split or bowed. If weaknesses are identified, now is the time to repair them.
Weeding the garden is a mandatory task, even if you weeded in the fall. Take the time needed to remove grass and weeds, even if it means digging up and replanting plants or bulbs post weed removal.
In addition, after a typical rainy Winter and Spring in Georgia, it is important to repair or re-mulch garden paths. This will provide a clean walkway through the garden instead of traipsing around in the mud. Care should be taken as you trim perennials--do not prune too much as many perennials will already be flush with new growth. If you did not prune perennials in the fall you may need to cut back the old and dead foliage close to the top of the crown and mulch around it. Discard dead perennials if there is no sign of life in the center of the crown.
This is also the time to plant summer bulbs and start begonias and warm weather crops indoors such as tomatoes and peppers. You can direct-sow cool weather crops outside like greens, peas, beets, carrots, and leeks.
Woody perennials—Buddleias, lavender, black-eyed Susan, Artemis, butterfly weed, foxglove, dianthus, globe thistle, Hosta, Joe Pye weed, and Lamb’s Ear, prefer Spring pruning. Now is also the time to prune evergreen perennials such as hellebores, coral bells, and some ferns—especially if the plants look a bit scraggly. If your perennials have overgrown their beds, early Spring is the best time to divide them. Transplant plants that are too big for the garden bed or too crowded.
Before one gets too excited about buying and planting plants, it is best to inspect your soil. Good soil should break apart easily and not compress into a firm ball. If you have not tested the soil, now is the time to get it done! Knowing the balance of nutrients in your soil and the pH balance is important for success. It also provides guidance on the type of fertilizer required for your chosen plants.
Do not forget to mulch your garden. Mulch cools the roots of the plants, and mulched plants require less water once the growing season begins. In addition, mulch helps to smother weeds and prevents them from growing. Mulching also feeds the soil as it breaks down and adds nutrients to the soil. Finally, mulch adds finishing touches to the garden—making it look tidy and well-tended.
Maintain notes on your observations and outcomes for each garden you maintain. Note what management techniques worked best, which seeds performed well, and track the weather, rain, and events that impact the outcome of the garden. Over time you will learn important information on which plants thrive and which are not suited for your particular environment or when to and where to plant certain plants. Information and knowledge save you time and informs your seed and plant selections. Also make notes on the growth, disease resistance, hardiness and productivity of the varieties of plants you harvest. This information will inform your seed selections for next season—saving you time and ensuring your future harvests will meet your expectations.
Lastly, take some time to learn about native plants for your region and consider planting these over non-native species. Native plants are well suited for our region, requiring less water and are well suited to thrive given the soil type and habitat. Native plants also support local wildlife. My favorite spring flowering plants are Native Azaleas. I believe every garden should have one (or more!).
Additional information/publications on horticulture can be found at the University of Georgia’s Extension Website, http://extension.uga.edu/. In addition, the local UGA Douglas County Extension Office is available to assist: firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-920-7224. For suggestions for future articles, you may also email email@example.com.