Warmer weather, much eluded sunshine this winter and longer days all help encourage my need to get into the garden.
There is much to be done, and it is time to start the spring chores. It is time to search out the garden tools, whether we cleaned, oiled and neatly organized them for winter or whether we left them scattered from the basement to the barn. Now is the time to gather them up, because this is when we put them to use.
If it seems overwhelming, the best way is to just start somewhere - anywhere.
One day, while I was at work, my husband took up the pruning sheers and trimmed the ornamental grasses. If you left them over the winter, and many people do, they must be trimmed in early spring before the new growth gets too tall. We like leaving them over the winter to give the garden some dimension when most everything else has died back to the ground.
Another dead-looking plant I leave over the winter is Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush). Gardeners new to this plant might think it died and will feel disappointed as they dig it out. After all, when they left this impressive plant late last summer, it was more like a small ornamental tree than a shrub. But this plant doesn't produce new growth on last year's branches. Instead, it will send new shoots up from the ground until by mid-summer, we have another one just as large, if not larger, blooming and attracting butterflies. Now, we can trim our butterfly bushes back to the ground as part of the early cleanup chores.
If you think there isn't much to do because there isn't much growing yet, you could be in for a shock in May, when everything has gone berserk and you really don't know where to begin. I plan to begin with the asparagus bed. One of the first vegetables to come up in spring, asparagus needs room to spread its roots. My asparagus bed is outside the vegetable garden, so the first thing I'll do is trench its borders to keep it confined to its space and to keep lawn weeds from meandering into the bed, where they could crowd out the asparagus roots.
And while I'm trenching, I might as well keep going all around the flower beds, refreshing their edgings, too. Over the winter, chickweed (Stellaria media), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), and quackgrass (Elytrigia repens) started making their way from the lawn into the gardens. The best way to combat these weeds is to get roots, stems and all, out of the garden before they begin to spread. While the soil is still moist from winter melt-downs and spring rains, it is easier to pull up those nasty and invasive weeds.
I like to plan for new plants around this time. To prepare for what I might buy for the garden in the next couple months, I rake off the old, mostly decaying layer of last year's mulch and begin prepping the beds. I usually add a top dressing of compost to the beds, either in the form of last year's fall leaves, compost directly from my own piles, or bagged organic compost if I've run out of my own.
In the meantime, my husband checks out the trees. He picks up fallen branches snapped off by winter winds and rakes up debris left behind from last fall. He stands ever ready with the tractor and wagon to haul away the sod and soil I've taken out of the trenches. He uses these clumps to fill in low-lying spots in the yard that might have heaved and sunk from winter's freezing and thawing. And when I've completely exhausted my energy from the digging, and my back and legs are letting me know they don't like this new position I've been in for so long, he'll take up the shovel and finish the last few feet of the trench while I retrieve refreshments.
Working together to do our spring cleanup gives us an opportunity to not only spend some quality time with each other, which isn't always possible with our busy schedules, but it also gives us a chance to toss ideas around for future landscaping plans. We talk about which gardens we might want to expand and what we expect to accomplish during the current season.
When we've finished a good day's work, not all the work, of course, because it really never is finished, we sit on the patio and look over what we've accomplished. There is more to a day of gardening than anxiety attacks over weeds and a feeling of being overwhelmed. When faced with that problem, my remedy is to just start. Start somewhere, anywhere. Pick a corner - one garden bed or even one part of a garden bed - dive in and do one task at a time. It's amazing the progress you'll make by breaking the work down into smaller pieces. Plus, you'll enjoy doing it so much more.