Now that spring is over, what is a gardener to do?

By Bruce Gaudette and Todd Merrin | Jun 22, 2011

We think we can finally say:  Spring is officially here!  It’s just unfortunate that it took until virtually the summer solstice to arrive!

Now that spring-like temperatures are here, to be followed soon by summer warmth (we hope and pray) there are some gardening tasks that we should discuss. 

Yes, it is time to consider the inevitable garden to-do list.   We have culled a list from from various sources, many available online, of the most essential items that you should consider to improve your garden with minimum toil and maximum results. 

The first thing we recommend is to learn from history.  In other words, think about the successes and shortcomings of your garden over the last year or two, and make adjustments accordingly. 

Taking notes and making plans to improve your garden BEFORE you set out to improve it, will save you time and money, and lead to better results.  Stand back and consider structural improvements to your garden and additions of plants that are best-suited to the particular spaces and microclimates (sun, shade, wet, dry, etc.) and you will realize dividends for years to come.

Remove dead plants

Before you plan the garden of your dreams, start by removing any plants that are dead or damaged. 

You should clean and sharpen your tools before you prune trees and shrubs that need it.

For early blooming shrubs, such as forsythia and viburnum, prune them as soon as blooms have passed.  Make sure to deadhead any spent flowers, and to weed your planting beds!

One helpful tip is to do your weeding one or two days after a rain, when the soil has dried out a bit and is no longer clumpy wet, but is still supple.  This will make weeding much easier, allowing you to get at the roots, and saving you lots of time and ibuprofen later in the summer when the ground hardens.

Start planning

Once you have cleared out the floral cemetery of your garden, it is time to start planning!  We recommend keeping a garden journal for this purpose.  In the journal, take note of plants that did not make it last year or and list plants that survived, but did not thrive.

Make a drawing of areas to be planted this year, and note the daily climate and soil conditions of these places.  Be specific.  

For instance, a sunny spot next to your asphalt driveway or adjacent to a brick wall is likely to get scorching hot on a clear afternoon.  A shady area may be deep shade or dappled.

Noticing the specifics of your landscape will help to guide you to better choices in plants this year.  Make sure to compare notes with your gardening comrades, and get the advice of a local nursery expert on the remaining mysteries of your garden.

 Now it is time to plan and implement structural improvements!  Could you use a pathway or raised bed in the garden?  Is that slope on your property continuing to erode and in need of retention?  If so, don’t forget the drainage needs of retaining walls. 

Did you always want a shed, chicken coup, or composter to compliment your planting areas?  These additions require research and should be drawn into your garden sketch to make sure they are right-sized and in the right place.  

Do not forget that there are codes that govern size and placement of structures, so call Mukilteo City Hall and talk to the planners first.  They are friendly, and will gladly tell you about size restraints and property line offsets for your neighborhood. 

This last point is important: Codes vary from place to place within the city, so don’t proceed on hearsay.

Consider your soil

One last task that is a key to garden success, before heading out to the nurseries and making plant purchases, is to consider your soil. 

What kind of soil do you have?  Is it rocky, mostly clay, sand, humus?  Is there a thin organic soil layer on top, but a stark horizon of different soil composition underneath?  Is your soil too acidic? 

A soil testing kit and some exploration on your part can help you answer these questions.  Test kits are available at most gardening and home center stores. Test your soil so that you can add nutrients as needed and determine where certain plants are likely to perform best.

In order for plants to thrive, they generally need rich, well-drained organic soil matter.  This material is constantly being broken down by microorganisms, such as bacterium and fungal mycorrhizae, into a form that plants can absorb and use.  That means that soil can effectively get ‘used up’ and needs to be replenished on a yearly basis. 

Older gardens need between one and three inches of new soil or compost tilled into the bed areas before planting.  Tilling mixes the top soil layers together, allowing plant roots to explore where they previously feared to tread, resulting in more robust and resilient plants.

Shop ‘til you drop

And now, at long last, the moment for which you have been waiting – off to the nurseries to shop until you drop! 

Having, of course, saved our columns of years past – still available on our website just in case you have misplaced them – you will have no shortage of plant choices to consider!

Look for more suggestions down the road. For this month, we are out of space.  Happy gardening!

Bruce Gaudette, owner of Land Hoe! Landscape Design and Construction, holds an Associate Degree in Horticulture from Edmonds Community College and industry certifications in paver and permeable paver installation.  Todd Merrin, designer for Land Hoe!, holds a degree in Landscape Architecture from CA Polytechnic Institute.

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