Spring Season Garden Tips | Reader's Digest

Spring Season Garden Tips

Whether it grows in a modest backyard plot or surrounds your country house, there's lots to be done as the weather gets warmer to ensure a bountiful garden.

from The Reader's Digest New Illustrated Guide to Gardening

Whether your garden is a cramped backyard plot or a huge area of land around a country house, there are always jobs to be done when the weather starts to get warmer. Read on to find out how to clear out weeds, loosen the soil in beds, and feed and water your plants when spring arrives.

Clear Out Weeds

Begin weeding as soon as growth appears. Neglecting the job only leads to more work later on if the weeds are allowed to mature and disperse their seeds. Also, weeds flourish in well-prepared soil and deprive the plants of both nutrients and moisture. When weeding, keep a basket nearby, and drop weeds into it as you remove them. If left on moist soil, many of them will reroot. Add the weeds to your compost pile. Once the ground has been cleared of weeds, a mulch can be applied to deter further growth. Another benefit of mulch is that it conserves soil moisture during dry spells.

In small beds weeding can be done with a short-handled cultivator. But for larger areas, to eliminate prolonged stooping, a long-handled tool is preferable.

To remove weeds with a standard hoe, cut them off with a chopping motion, drawing the hoe toward you, and taking care not to injure any of the desirable plants. The flat side of a Warren hoe is used the same way; the two-pronged side is used for larger weeds.

The scuffle, or Dutch, hoe is pushed backward and forward through the soil, just below the surface, to cut off the weeds.

Cultivators break up the surface soil and uproot weeds at the same time. When such persistent, deep-rooted weeds as quack grass are growing around the base of a plant, it may be necessary to dig up the plant, split it apart, and replant it in order to remove weeds in the center of the clump or entangled with the roots.

Loosen the Soil in Beds

At the start of the growing season, and again in late autumn, the soil in established beds should be loosened. This is particularly important on heavy or unmulched soil that has become compacted. Loosening allows air and moisture to penetrate to the roots of the plants and at the same time eliminates any weed seedlings. A fork can be used, but a long-handled, tined cultivator is ideal.

Feed and Water Your Plants

The health of plants can be maintained or improved, and their growth encouraged, by the application of a complete fertilizer containing the three most important plant nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash — in varying proportions.

Organic or slow-release fertilizers are particularly suited to perennials, since the nutrients are released slowly over the full period of growth. In early spring, just as growth becomes apparent and before mulching, apply fertilizer by hand. Avoid letting it come in contact with foliage. Alternatively, use a complete inorganic fertilizer with an analysis such as 4-12-4. Always apply fertilizer according to directions.

From late spring to early summer the plants can be fed every three or four weeks with a fast-acting liquid foliar spray.

Watering should not be necessary if the bed has been mulched, except during prolonged dry spells. The mulch, which is a layer of organic material over the soil, conserves moisture by reducing evaporation. If watering is needed, use a sprinkler that gives a steady and even spray, so that the water penetrates deeply.

Clay soils, which compact under heavy rain, should have their surfaces loosened before watering, feeding, or mulching. A mulch also serves some other worthwhile purposes. It prevents compacting. It improves the quality of both clay and sandy soils. It helps to keep water from spattering the undersides of the leaves and thus lessens the spread of soil-borne fungus disease. It helps to suppress weed seedlings. And as the organic materials break down, they add nutrients to the soil.

Apply mulch in late spring after the ground has been weeded but before growth is advanced. In dry weather soak soil before mulching.

It is best to cover the planting bed completely. But if this is not possible, it is better to apply a thick mulch around some plants than to spread it thinly over the whole bed.