Mary Ann King of Yankton writes about her spring gardening activities that save time and get positive results. Growing up on a farm I always had chores! You know, those jobs that required my
most patient mother to remind me again and again to get done. Now I love my gardening
chores and look forward to digging in the dirt. “Mama, I am getting my chores done!”
In early spring, once snow melts and temperatures are above freezing, check your
garden soil to see if it is wet (especially clay soil). Working too early with really wet soil
can cause compaction, making it difficult for roots to grow. Who needs those muddy
1. Remove debris. Before too many plants start their spring growth, start the clean up by
removing dead and decaying plant matter. While the dead plants provide organic matter to
the beds, they also harbor pests and diseases. Prune off any dead matter that still clings
to a plant. Either dispose of all this matter or add it to the compost pile.
2. Cut back ornamental grasses. I do not cut back my grasses in the fall since I like
the texture they give the winter garden. Come spring, “off with their heads!” Cut these
back in late winter before the new growth begins.
3. Divide delicate perennials. Divide these plants as they begin to emerge to minimize
damage. Do not wait too long since delicate stems and leaves of plants can be damaged
and broken by a plunging spade. Try not to divide or move plants that bloom in the
spring. These are best divided after blooming and include oriental poppies, Siberian
and bearded iris and true lilies (not daylilies). Peonies are best divided in the fall.
4. Sow seeds. Some annuals and vegetables grow best when sown directly in the
ground. Choose your spot and sow the seed as soon as the last-frost-date passes. This
gives the plants a “head start” before the nearby plants shade them out.
5. Start summer bulbs. Tubers and bulbs such as dahlias, begonias, caladiums,
elephant ears, cannas, gladiolus and lilies can be started in-doors in pots. Once the
outside soil temperature warms to 60 degrees, transplant to the garden.
6. Add plants to the garden. Now that your beds have been cleared, perennials
divided and replanted, put some thoughts to adding fall bloomer while you can.
Sometimes we forget the fall plants, leaving the beds barren of blooms. Ask your
nursery garden staff for ideas, and come September you will have quite a show!
7. Add nutrients. Carefully add fertilizer, avoiding plant foliage and thus leave burn.
There are different recommendations for organic verses inorganic fertilizers. Inorganic
fertilizers are not necessary every year, especially if you have been adding compost.
Organic fertilizers, which have fewer nutrients, can be added every year and are more
slow release than inorganic ones. It is better to use less rather than too much fertilizer.
Too much can result in lush foliage, with few or no flowers.
8. Mulch the beds. My husband calls me the “mulching Queen.” I love mulch and so
do my plants. I use only organic mulch because it reduces surface moisture
evaporation, improves water penetration and air-movement, helps prevent soil erosion,
improves the soil and protects the plants. To help you choose which mulch to
use, see the website http://www.ext.colostate.edu and search for “Mulches for Home Grounds”
by J.E. Klett.
9. Be-gone, weeds! Start early before these beasts take over, a lesson I learned the hard
way. As a child, letting the weeds grow resulted in the use of a “corn knife” machete to
hack down those overgrown weed plants. Memories of hot, sweaty, bug-biting sessions
keep me from letting this task get away from me. So, “get your chores done” and your
garden will show its gratitude.