Spring: 23 Spring Gardening Tips, Ideas & DIY Projects
Everything from bears to pests and people come out of hibernation come spring, and garden plants are no exception. This chapter will introduce the best techniques to get a head start on your garden in the spring season, including catching pests early on, implementing companion planting, seeding vegetable plants, and transitioning plants from indoor to outdoor growth.
If you see USDA Plant Hardiness Zones mentioned in this guide, please visit the USDA website to identify your local climate zone and adjust the tips to your local conditions.
Begin planting now for a bountiful harvest this season.
1. Make Cloches for Tender Tomatoes
Protect your early tomatoes with these simple covers
The earlier you can start tomato plants, the sooner you will reap the reward – the un-comparable flavor of the homegrown tomato. They are cold sensitive and need protection from nighttime temperatures. Cloches, bell-shaped domes that cover young transplants, are an easy way to keep your plants warm. They are made from a variety of materials – glass, plastic bottles (with the tops cut off), woven vines, chicken wire covered in plastic, even clear umbrellas (with the handle removed).
2. Start Summer Vegetable and Herb Seeds Indoors
Get a jump on the growing season
Seeds require warmth and moisture to germinate. In the process of germination, they use up the energy that was stored in the seed. They need the energy that intense light provides to start the process of photosynthesis. Simple florescent fixtures are an easy and pocketbook-friendly way to provide that light. As your seedlings grow, you simply adjust the light higher, keeping it the same distance from your seedlings.
In zones 1 – 5, April.
3. Plant Potatoes
They need cool soil temperatures to sprout
The night of the new moon, when the sky is at its darkest, is the best time to plant potatoes, according to the Old Farmers Almanac. Cut potatoes into pieces, each with several ‘eyes’ or growing points and let dry for a couple of days before planting to prevent rot and fungus. You can grow them in hilled rows, raised beds, wire towers, and even trash bags. Plant 2″ – 4″ deep and mound soil around the stems as they grow.
In zones 1 – 5, June.
4. Try Companion Planting
Plants that protect your crops
Companion planting combines flowers and herbs with vegetables to protect the vegetables from insect damage. Through the centuries, many famous martyrs have given their lives to a cause. But did you know that certain plants sacrifice themselves to protect other plants? Nasturtiums, for instance, will draw insects away from your cabbage and broccoli. Companion plants also repel insects with a strong scent and some increase the productivity of your vegetables.
5. Sow Cool Season Vegetable Seeds
Plant beets, lettuce, onions, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard
The colors, tastes, and textures of the first vegetables of the season are irresistible; they remind us of why we garden in the first place. If planted too late, hot weather will cause the plants to bolt to seed and leafy greens to turn bitter.
These vegetables need time to mature during the coolness of spring, so it’s important to sow your seeds as soon as the soil can be worked.
In zones 1 – 6, late April and May.
6. Prune Crape Myrtle and Other Summer Flowering Trees
Encourage the new growth for this year’s flowers
Unlike spring flowering trees, which bloom on the prior year’s growth, summer flowering trees typically bloom on the current year’s growth. You can encourage more vigorous growth by pruning these trees now while they are still dormant. Remove any dead or diseased wood, crossing branches that rub together, branches growing toward the interior of the tree, and old seed heads.
7. Plant Cool Season Annuals
Calendula, pansies, petunias, poppies, snapdragons, and sweet alyssum bring the garden to life
If you live in zone 7 or lower, cool season annuals that you planted in the fall are likely beginning to spring back to life. In colder regions, these fall plantings may not have made it through the winter. Seeds are an inexpensive way to experiment with a wide variety of flowers, allowing you to discover what performs best in your garden. Purchase small plants to give your containers instant appeal.
Zones 1 – 6, April.
8. Repot Houseplants and Hanging Baskets
They need fresh nutrients and room to grow
Whether you have kept them in the house, garage, or greenhouse, most houseplants are usually looking a little ragged this time of year. Many have lost most of their leaves, become root-bound, or have brown edges on the foliage. It’s time to wake up these plants with a fresh potting mixture, fertilizer, and generous amounts of water. If the plant is root-bound, prune away a third of the roots and try to loosen the remaining root ball.
Zones 1 – 6, April.
9. Plant an Old-Fashioned Rose Garden
Delight the senses with these hardy shrubs
As a young girl, I remember feeling intoxicated by the perfume of my grandmother’s rose garden, surrounded by clouds of petals in a magical place. Antique and English roses were her favorites not just for the scent, but also for the low maintenance, disease resistance, and abundance of blooms. These roses are hardy shrubs that will thrive in many soil conditions and grow up to five feet tall and wide.
Get your hands dirty during this month of garden multi-tasking.
10. Make a Vegetable Trellis
Provide support for pole beans and many other vegetables
You can use sticks, bamboo, old ladders and garden tools, and even old bicycle wheels to make a vegetable trellis. So look around your garage, yard, the attic and get your creative juices flowing. Trellises should be six to eight feet tall and shaped like a flat plane, a folded structure – like a ladder, a teepee shape, a dome, or a tunnel.
11. Set Out Summer Vegetable and Herb Transplants
As the soil warms, these plants begin to thrive
Set out basil, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, lemon grass, melon, oregano, pepper, squash, sweet corn, thyme, and tomato plants this month. These warm season vegetables and herbs begin to flourish as the soil warms. Mix a generous helping of compost (2″-3″) into your planting beds, set out your transplants level with or slightly lower than soil level, mulch, water thoroughly, and fertilize with liquid organic fertilizer.
Zones 1 – 6, late May for cucumbers and melons.
12. Deadhead Cool Season Annuals
Removing spent flowers encourages more flowering
When flowers fade, the plants begin to put all of their energy into producing seed, and this leaves little energy left to produce new flowers. Deadheading is the simply removing the spent flowers so the plant will put its energy into making new flowers instead of seed. Depending on the specific annual, you can remove the flowers by pinching or with small clippers.
13. Fertilize Trees and Shrubs
Provide the ingredients your plants need for photosynthesis
Plants make their food through photosynthesis, but they require certain ingredients from the surrounding soil to do so. If any of the required ingredients – nutrients – is missing, the plant will never reach its potential. The need for nutrients is highest in the early spring when trees and shrubs behave like sprinters, putting on a major burst of growth; growth continues throughout the season, but at a much slower pace.
14. Attract Pollinators to Your Garden
Bees cannot resist these flowers
The most effective pollinators in the insect world, bees pollinate a third of the food crops on which the human population depends. Pollen is attracted to the tiny baskets on their legs through an electrostatic charge carried by their furry little bodies. Ensure they pollinate your crops by planting flowers and herbs throughout vegetable and fruit gardens. Try asters, borage, clover, dill, oregano, salvia, sunflowers, and yarrow.
15. Plant Pumpkins and Gourds
For delicious holiday meals and fun decorations
Plant your pumpkins and gourds, but don’t stand beside them too long or you might get wrapped up. Gourd vines will grow a foot a day, quickly taking over whatever is in their path. So give them plenty of room – 15′ for pumpkins and 30′ for gourds. It is best to grow gourds on an arbor or fence, and pumpkins should run along the ground. Keep plants well watered and fed.
Zones 1 – 6, late May and early June.
16. Beat Insects with Row Covers
An inexpensive and chemical-free way to keep insects away
Lightweight and permeable, row covers allow air, water, and light to pass through to plants. What they do not allow through are insects that stress, damage, and even kill your plants. You can use them with or without supports like wire hoops, bury the edges in the soil, or seal them with bricks or boards. Don’t leave any gaps for the insects to get in.
17. Plant Lily Bulbs
Asiatic, calla, canna, and rain lilies – There’s a lily for every garden
Asiatic and Oriental lilies are ‘true’ lilies whose scent and large, showy flowers have made them a staple of floral bouquets. Many other plants use the name ‘lily’, as well – calla, canna, daylily, rain lily, and tiger lily. They require full sun and – except the canna lily – rich, loamy, well-drained soil. Canna lilies, whose size and foliage resemble a tropical ginger more than a lily, performs well in wet conditions.
Watch your garden grow into a sea of green as you continue sowing, planting flowers, and nurturing young vegetables.
18. Clean Perennial Beds
Remove dead foliage and flower stalks to make room for new growth
The flower heads on herbaceous perennials such as coreopsis, daisies, Echinacea, and rudbeckia are an important food source for songbirds and should be left standing throughout the winter months. As new foliage peaks through the soil in the spring, it’s time to trim back the dead foliage and flower stalks from last year, pull back the mulch, and fertilize. For gardeners in zones 7 and below, this may need to be done in April.
19. Prune Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs
Encourage healthy growth and flowering next year
Because trees and shrubs that bloom in spring do so on the previous year’s growth, encouraging vigorous growth now means more flowers next spring. Prune after the tree or shrub has stopped blooming – this is also a good time to fertilize – but before the summer equinox in June. The equinox marks the shortening of days, and this signals to the plants that it is time for them to set their flower buds for next year.
20. Plant Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies
Support this threatened species
The only host plant for the Monarch butterfly, milkweed produces clusters of tiny flowers in shades of green, cream, pink, and brilliant orange. These hardy perennials are all most as showy as the butterflies that seek them. Make milkweed a staple of your garden and get a front row seat to one of nature’s miracles, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
21. Plant Pole Beans
There are many to choose from and all are easy to grow
The term ‘pole bean’ refers not to the specific type of bean, but to it’s growing characteristics. Pole beans include your classic green beans, purple beans, wax beans, and lima beans. More work than bush beans – worth it for the longer yield times, pole beans are climbers. Tree branches, bamboo teepees, trellises, and even tomato cages provide adequate support for these hardy bean varieties.
Zones 1 – 5, June.
22. Thin Fruit on Trees
Thinning produces larger fruit
It just seems wrong to pluck off a bunch of fruits before they have developed, but branches heavily laden with fruit are likely to break, and much of the fruit may drop from the tree before ripening. If left to overbear, fruit trees may not bear the following year. Thinning the fruit, however, will encourage the remaining fruit to grow larger, the color to be better, and the flavor to be more intense.
23. Plant Summer Annuals
The time is right for many seeds and transplants
Bachelors’ buttons, calendula, cleome, cosmos, impatiens, marigolds, morning glory, salvia, sunflowers, and zinnias are but a few of a very long list of options for summer color, most of which grow well from seed. Although transplants purchased at your garden center give you a head start on the season, seeds give you many more options – so you can experiment – and save money.
As the spring season winds down, the fruits of your seeding, fertilization, and pruning efforts will transition you from prep to harvest season. In the next chapter, we’ll provide a smorgasbord of tips to keep your crops producing healthy feasts for your eyes and your stomach all summer long.