Monthly Maintenance Checklists for Your Garden: Spring

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The term garden journal is widely used, but do you know what a garden journal is? A misconception is that a garden journal is an unnecessary book of blank pages one uses to write down thoughts while lounging in the garden. That is certainly an option (we are not here to discourage creativity or lounging in the garden); however, a garden journal is more widely used as a tool to document the successes and failures in a garden.

When a car is manufactured, it comes with a user's manual. After a house is built, the owner receives a copy of the plans, and user manuals for appliances. Likewise, a garden journal is the manual of your garden that tells you when to perform specific maintenance tasks, deal with diseases, and care for individual plants. A garden journal is your one-stop for all this gardening information. To start your gardening journal off right, we've created a yearly gardening task list broken down by month.

Garden Production Schedule

Starting seedlings, preparing soil, buying mulch, deterring insects and rodents, planting new plants, spraying for diseases, trimming, cutting, dead heading, thinning out, dividing, adding nutrients, and picking produce and herbs are just a few of the tasks a gardener performs each year. Gardening can be an obsession which soon becomes a year round activity, as you'll soon see. For everything to bloom and grow on schedule, your plants must be planted, pruned, fed, and cared for throughout the year. Truly organized gardeners don't fly by the seat of their pants or take a hint from the gardening actions of neighbors, but actually adhere to a gardening production schedule each season. The garden journal is normally the guide used to care for the garden each year.

Gardening Tasks for March

March is the perfect time to start seedlings indoors such as calendula, corn poppy, corn flower, sunflower, marigolds, zinnia, fox glove, impatiens, cosmos, snapdragon, and lupines. Gardeners use both seed starting kits available at most home improvements stores and online, or develop homemade starter containers by cutting down toilet paper rolls, stuffing the bottom with newspaper, and filling the top with soil. Whichever method you use, be sure to start the seeds during the month of March. If the seeds are hardy (check the package for details) you can plant them directly outdoors. Don't forget to provide some protection from rabbits, or the next time you check the seedlings they may not be there.

When weather permits, cut back ornamental grasses or flowering plants that were kept taller for winter garden color and interest. Cut ornamental grasses down to at least 12 inches from the base. Prune rose bushes, small shrubs, and any climbing vines. If you plan to add rose bushes in containers, keep an eye on the weather and sneak it in on a warm day. Summer blooming perennials should also be planted in March, but only if they are a hardy size. It is still too early to plant seedlings outdoors.

Clean up the yard and garden areas and dispose of any left over leaves. Don't simply cover leaves with mulch - damp leaves are a breeding ground for garden-eating bugs and mosquitoes.

Depending on the region, narcissi, daffodils and other bulb plants bloom from late winter to early spring. If you don't see signs of them in the garden now you soon will. Be sure to fertilize the bulbs as soon as leaves appear above the soil. Once bulb plants start to die, cut off the flowers, but wait six weeks before cutting leaves and stems.

If your lawn is disheveled it won't matter how spectacular your garden is, so be sure to fertilize and reseed any bare areas.

Finally, scrub down any garden stones covered with algae or garden decorations left out through the winter.

Gardening Tasks for April

During April, continue to care for seeds you started in March, and if need be plant more seedlings indoors.

April can bring harsh storms and winds, so secure climbing plants or fragile rose bush branches. Twist the vines and branches to decorative spikes or lattice to keep vines from breaking in the wind. Add decorative stakes to tall, top heavy plants like delphiniums, hollyhocks, and cone flowers. Some variations of Shasta Daisies need stakes as well.

April is a very important month for your rose bushes. If you want bold and beautiful rose bushes in July you have to fertilize, prune, mulch, and be on the lookout for bugs in April.

If April isn't full of showers, trim shrubs in the garden and landscaped areas of the yard.

If rhododendron flowers were not trimmed from last year, be sure to dead head them by April. (That is, if they haven't already blown down the block during a bad storm.) If you plan to add additional evergreen shrubs to the garden, April is the month to do so. Actually, any shrub or perennial can be added this month that thrives in soil with an acid pH.

Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans), Shasta Daisies and aster are three popular garden perennials. Not all gardeners are aware that you can divide these plants as they age. Yay, more plants to plant! The time to do that is, you guessed it, April. In the summer and fall months, make a note in your garden journal about plants you feel can be divided the following spring. That will help you keep track.

Be sure to till and hoe the garden soil to prevent weeds from growing, or from taking away nutrients from seedlings.

If you should have a late winter frost or snow storm, cover flowering plants with plastic and secure with bricks or buckets of sand. As long as the soil is the proper temperature, your plants should be fine.

Plant phlox, thyme and other alpines.

If soil temperatures permit, plant sunflower.

Gardening Tasks for May

Continue gardening tasks covered in previous months. This includes caring for seedlings, weeding, and trimming.

Plant hydrangeas, fuchsia and other shrubs that prefer warmer weather. As the lovely to look at azaleas bloom, be sure to deadhead daily so new flowers have room. Do the same for rhododendrons and other flowering bushes in your garden.

Check the pH level of soil and make adjustments as needed.

Walk the garden area and look for overcrowded areas, or overgrown plants that may be blocking others from the sun. If needed, trim plants or thin out areas by replanting elsewhere. If areas of garden weed barrier ripped over the winter, apply a new barrier sheet to the area. Add mulch to your entire garden area.

Plant annuals within the garden, in containers, and as borders. You can plant annuals in April or March if the soil temperature is right. Be sure to regularly deadhead annuals to promote new growth.

When the wind blows, seeds from lawn weeds are carried to garden areas where they take root. Continue to mow the lawn and add weed killer.

Add homemade or store bought slug traps throughout your garden.

Of course, don't forget to care for your indoor seedlings, to check plants for diseases, add protection against rabbits, and document anything of note in your garden journal.