Now that the date of spring is officially past, a little spring cleaning is in order. For gardeners, spring cleaning may not be all about airing out, shaking out, painting up and washing down. Instead, it is about getting the garden ready to welcome in a season of growing.
Spring is confusing in Utah. The weather reaches balmy temperatures only to plunge again to freezing. The sun may shine in the morning, but snow might fly in the afternoon followed by ice in the evening. Based on experience, there is no predicting long-term spring weather for Utah.
Sorting out plant habits isn’t always much easier. Annual plants died during the winter — that much is clear-cut.
Biennials come up for a second round of growth and gardeners may have taken advantage of that habit and planted biennial flowers last fall. The winter cold keys them into responding to spring as if it were a second year and they bloom in the warm season.
Perennials are a little more confusing. They may just leaf out and start growing from where they left off, or they may have died back to the ground to begin again from the roots up. However, winter cold and snow may have damaged some of them leaving a tangle of broken branches and shoots to sort out or roots that don’t have the strength to re-grow.
Spring bulbs are a brave lot. Daffodils are emerging and in some cases beginning to bloom already. Tulips and hyacinths aren’t far behind. Crocuses have braved the weather to bloom almost under the snow.
Fortunately, bulbs are also a hardy lot. You won’t need to do anything for them. They are made for cool weather. In fact, they depend on it. Snow falls and mashes them down and then they pop up again. They are made for this kind of weather.
Ditto for hardy biennials like wallflowers, pansies and spring-blooming perennials.
In terms of these, just sit back and take a break. Anything you do to the bulbs may harm them. You cannot cover them up, you cannot make them stay cold, and you certainly cannot keep them from growing without causing irreparable damage. They have survived much worse weather than we are likely to have and will actually last much longer if they bloom when the weather is cool. Allow them to grow and enjoy them.
A sunshiny day is a good day to get out and clean up your garden beds. Clear off dead weeds and last summer’s vegetable plants if they are still in place. It is probably too early to till because the soil in most gardens is very wet. If you were motivated enough to till your garden last fall, or have a small area you can turn with a fork, you may be able to hasten soil readiness for planting.
If your soil is heavy clay, it is likely still too wet. If you have sandy soil or areas of your garden that are warmer and drier than other areas, it could be ready sooner. However, feel free to pick a good day. It isn’t urgent yet. In late March and early April, it’s OK to be a fair-weather gardener.
Check out your sprinkling system. The very cold weather last winter might have damaged some pipes. There is certainly no reason to water anything right now, but the weather may suddenly turn to summer, as it sometimes does. That may or may not be a convenient time to make repairs as plants swelter.
You may find plenty of pesky winter annual weeds that germinated last fall and have been growing surreptitiously this winter. Weed raspberries, strawberries and other perennial beds before the weeds get too well started. This also gets rid of many pests that wintered over and makes it easier to see where pruning or dividing needs to be done.
You may have cleaned up flower beds last fall, but the advent of winter has probably blown in some debris of various kinds, like tumbleweeds, papers and twigs. Pick up or rake out such debris and uncover the plants. Remove leaves that may have blown in or fallen on flowerbeds or lawns so they don’t shade out the gardens or grass. Use the leaves as mulch or compost them to use on the garden later.
Apply a pre-emergent like Galleria if you have a problem with annual weeds in your lawns. It will not kill weeds that have already grown. It is designed to kill seedlings as they germinate.
Any time before they break dormancy is a good time to get out and prune fruit trees. Remove dead twigs and branches, crossing and rubbing branches and broken wood. Thin the crown as is appropriate for the various types of trees. It is possible to prune fruit trees after blossoming so you don’t remove all the wood that would actually bear fruit.
You may be worried that the fruit trees will blossom too early and be hit with a spring frost while they are blooming. It certainly is a possibility, but there is almost nothing to be done toward delaying the growth of fruit trees. There is no choice but to accept whatever comes.
Some people wonder why some lawns in the neighborhood are already greening up while others remain pretty much dormant. If a lawn was fertilized well in late fall, that fertilizer moved to the roots while the soil was warm and it absorbed. The grass will be ready to green up rapidly and begin to grow well as soon as the weather is right. Fertilizing as the grass breaks dormancy will be good for it.