Getting Started in Your Spring Garden

Lenten Rose

Lenten rose

If you’re like me, the first 70-degree days of 2011 made you itchy to get your hands into the earth. But for a lot of burgeoning gardeners, it’s hard to know what to do first.

Here are some ideas for how to get started in your garden for the year…or how to get a garden started, period.

Grasses1. Cut back ornamental grasses.

It’s time to trim those golden plumes you enjoyed all winter. The new shoots erupt out of the ground early and fast, and if you don’t get the old growth trimmed soon enough, you’ll be scowling in April and May at the chopped-off leaf tips.

Click here for details about specific grasses.

Tip: Bungee the grass into a bundle, then cut with a hedge trimmer, beginning around the edges. Wear long sleeves and gloves–grasses can shred your skin.

2. Start weeding.

In my Southern garden, weeds have already made tremendous headway. Get ahead of them early, by whatever method you choose. (I pull them by hand.) note: Do not ever use “weed and feed” for lawns in your garden beds.

3. Enrich your soil.

Early in the planting season is a great time to add nutrients to soil. Be very wary of using chemical fertilizers, as they can “burn” new, tender plants if not applied correctly. Instead, consider feeding your plants organically-based nutrients (such as kelp extract or bone meal) from the garden store or composted material you produce yourself. I like to amend soil with a mix of manure and peat moss from a garden center, and I also produce my own compost. (More on that later this spring.)

Click here for detailed information about composting your lawn and kitchen waste.

4. Plant a tree.

If you’d love to create a backyard haven but you’re not sure how to begin, start with the big decisions: where you’ll place patios and buildings, where you’d like sun and shade, where beds will go. The garden isn’t something you create all at once. It takes time for larger perennials to come into their own. So why not go ahead and get a few trees started?

Carolina Silverbell in bloom

Carolina Silverbell in bloom

If the ground is thawed where you live, you can go ahead and plant trees now. Think carefully about what you want from a tree: how large should it be? Do you want spring blooms, shade, or fall color?


  • Be careful about planting very large trees right next to your house.
  • Plant smaller trees underneath power lines.
  • Choose strong, slower-growing trees over fast-growers that tend to split and are often short-lived. (Click here to learn why not to plant Bradford pears!)
  • Be sure your chosen tree will grow in the shade/sun/soil environment of your yard.
  • Does the tree drop annoying litter that you’ll come to hate? (e.g. black walnuts, gum trees) Choose something else.
  • It’s hard to lose with native trees–guaranteed not to become invasive, and likely to survive your region’s climate.

Visit this previous post for a list of my favorite small ornamental trees for Southern gardens.

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