8 Spring Gardening Tasks You Should Do Before You Begin Planting

updated Mar 29, 2021
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Earlier this month, we covered what you can plant during the month of March. In many parts of the country, though, it’s still a bit too early for planting. But even if it’s still chilly in your neck of the woods, there’s plenty you can do in your garden this month. In fact, there are some chores that need to be done in March, like pruning, transplanting, and dividing fall-blooming perennials. Then, there are the other chores that are just easier to get done, like setting up trellises and adding compost to your garden beds. 

Before you proceed with any of these tips, make sure that it’s the appropriate time to do so based on your agricultural zone. If there’s still snow and ice and your ground is still frozen, wait a couple of more weeks before getting out there. Look to local resources like university extensions for information on your zone’s last frost, which will help you plan your timing.

Uncover your evergreens.

Now is the time to uncover your evergreens and other shrubs you might have covered against the harsh winter weather. Think of it as waking up your garden from hibernation. 

Put up trellises and other support systems.

Before your garden begins to really put on new growth, you should put up your trellises and other types of plant supports. It’s much easier to install them before your garden takes off — you won’t have to wrangle unruly vines and stems. This way, your plants can grow up through the supports.

Start pruning.

Once the weather begins to warm in March, it’s time to prune your woody plants. The key here is to prune them before new buds and growth can break on the stems. Each perennial shrub and bush has its own particular pruning requirements, so be sure to do your research before you go out and start hacking on them with your pruners. 

Trim cool-season ornamental grasses.

Cool-season ornamental grasses need different treatment from their warm-season cousins. If you’re not sure what types of grasses you have in your garden, take a close look at them. Cool-season grasses will look good even in cold weather. Warm-season grasses will turn brown and dead-looking after the first killing frost.

For your cool-season grasses, don’t touch the foliage until the ground has thawed and the ice and snow have melted. After that, it’s time to cut them back to make room for new growth. Leave at least a third of the older foliage in place; if you cut back too much, it will stunt the plant’s growth. 

Credit: Emma Fiala

Divide fall-blooming perennials.

All those fall-bloomers like hostas and daylilies need to be dug up and divided before they start growing for the season. Dig them up, divide them with a sharp spade or other garden tool. Replant the divisions wherever they fit into your garden, or give them to friends!

Do you have unruly irises or peonies as well? While they’re technically supposed to be divided in the fall, it’s possible to divide them in the spring in a pinch. This is especially true for irises, which have a reputation for being extra tough. 

Transplant any deciduous trees and shrubs.

Now is the time to move any of your deciduous trees and shrubs. It’s important to complete this task before the plant pushes out new growth. Once it begins to grow again, you risk putting it into shock when you move it. 

Clean out your flower beds.

We all spring clean our homes, and spring cleaning our flower beds is the same concept. It’s time to tidy up and make way for new growth and new plants. Rake the leaves and old mulch away from your beds. During the wildness of winter, fallen leaves and mulch combine to do their job: insulate the beds for winter. Come spring it’s important to remove all debris to allow early spring growth (like bulbs and perennials) to pop up. 

So, what should you do with those leaves? Don’t immediately shred or burn them. It’s a little-known fact that butterflies and moths (common pollinators!) hibernate through the winter. During this time, many of the next season’s butterfly and moth populations are storing their energy in chrysalides that look just like dead leaves. Be mindful of this as your raking through your garden. Be gentle and consider piling the leaves in a corner of your yard before disposing of them later in the season.

Add compost to garden beds.

This is a task you can complete as soon as your garden soil thaws. Mix a layer of your preferred compost into the top layer of garden soil. It will give a welcome boost to all plants that are trying to push up new growth.