black and white image of dirty gardening tools

Spring cleaning for a garden paradise

Hurrah, hurrah! Our favorite time of year is here again. Time to slather on the sunscreen and don the big floppy gardening hats. It makes no difference if you are a flower gardener, a vegetable gardener, or both–you have a few spring cleaning chores to do this spring to turn your garden into your own special paradise.

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share

We know you already cleaned up your gardening tools last fall before you put them away–right? Right? If not, it should definitely be one of the first things you do. They may have acquired some rust in the shed, so start by washing them in castile soap, scrub off the rust, and rub some linseed oil on them. Sand off any cracked or splintery handles and give them a coat of linseed oil, too. Get any pruners and shears sharpened. You can usually find someone to do this at your local farmers market.

someone holding a seedling in a garden with a woman smiling in the background

How do those container pots look? Full of old dirt and salt deposits? Dump the dirt and brush the white stuff away. If you have terra cotta pots, soak them in water and white distilled vinegar for about half an hour, and then wash them with soap and water. For all other types of material, skip the vinegar step and just wash them.

Scour the earth for clean beds

We don’t mean get out the steel wool and scrub the dirt! We mean, pull weeds now, while they are tender and the ground is moist. Clean up debris, and amend the soil. Of course, you wouldn’t dream of hurting the bees with pesticides, would you? So if you have some stubborn weeds, pour some boiling water on them and wait an hour or two. The hot water kills them and softens up the soil so you can pull them out by the roots. But leave a few dandelions. No kidding–bees need them in the springtime when other food sources are scarce. When the other flowers start to bloom, you can start pulling them, but don’t get too hasty.

And if you were a conscientious gardener like we asked you to be last fall, you should have some spots where you let the leaves and the flowers lie where they died. We were enriching the soil and giving the ladybugs a spot to winter over, remember? Now you can clean it up. Prune off the dead leaves around the newly growing spring bulbs and compost the leaves.

Now you are ready to amend the soil where you will be planting your flowers and vegetables. What does that mean exactly, for the newbies? It means head on over to your local greenhouse for some organic compost (if you haven’t made your own) and manure, yes, manure (don’t make this yourself). Call your utility company and make sure you can dig where you are planning to dig. Then, grab your shovel and get dirty! Dig down about two or three feet and dump in the compost and manure. Turn the dirt over and mix it in well. Done! You are ready to grow your paradise.

butterfly on white and purple flowers

Fun, fun, fun!

Now it’s time for the fun part–getting your plants in the ground (and containers for those of you without dirt on the ground). Time to head back to the greenhouse, nursery, or farmers market. Load up on seeds, summer-blooming bulbs, and seedlings. Think about the pollinators as you do this. Bees and butterflies will grace your yard if you plant flowers native to your area. Common suggestions are zinnia, aster, butterfly bush, fennel, sunflower, alyssum, Alstroemeria, honeysuckle, salvia, daisies, coneflower, sweet peas, and lavender.

And now is the time to get those summer-blooming bulbs in the ground–oh, yes! Some of our favorites go in the ground this time of year. Dahlias, tuberous begonias, canna, calla, and lillies. Going for a cutting garden? See our series on growing one.

Here comes sanctuary

All the hard work is done. Now you get to fill your containers and hanging baskets with annuals. Plant some tropical plants outside that you can bring indoors when summer is done. Hibiscus, birds-of-paradise, palms, and ti plants can turn your back yard or balcony into a sanctuary. Grow vines over things you don’t want to look at all summer (like the fence between you and a junky neighbor’s back yard). Enjoy a flourishing garden under your watchful eye. Relax and have fun. Happy spring, everyone!