10 Spring Gardening Tasks You Should Do Right Now, According to Pros

updated Mar 24, 2024
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While it’s officially spring, depending on where you live, the weather may or may not have gotten the memo. In some parts of the country, you might have already started planting this month (and if you need inspiration, check out this list of what to plant in March).

In many other areas, 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 — whether that garden is a sprawling yard or a small-space patio garden. 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 (sorry, Midwesterners), 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.

1. 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.

“If your early spring season starts out dry, it’s also beneficial to water your evergreens, particularly if you live in an area where the soil freezes over winter,” says Justin Hancock, horticulturist at Costa Farms. “Late winter and very early spring can also be a good time to take hardwood cuttings if you wish to propagate some of your favorite trees and shrubs while they’re still dormant.”

2. 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.

“Do not wait until your plants have already started to grow before installing support structures. The stakes can damage the tender roots,” says Carrie Spoonemore, co-creator of From Seed to Spoon, a free garden planning app by Park Seed.

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.

3. 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.

Before you begin pruning, ensure that you thoroughly clean, disinfect, and sharpen your shears, says Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development at Terra Nova Nurseries. “Pro tip: Clean your shears before putting them away, too. They’ll stay in better shape and fresh plant resin is easier to remove than months-old resin,” he adds. 

4. 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

5. 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!

If you have a plant that is particularly difficult to divide, here’s a pro tip to help you out. “Use the ‘two forks’ trick: Put two garden forks back to back. Insert the forks in the center of the root ball and then push them apart by applying pressure to the handles. This method helps to gently separate the roots without overly damaging them,” says Kelly Funk, president of Jackson & Perkins.

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. 

6. 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.

“One way to help reduce the amount of stress to the plant is to dig the hole where your plant is going to go before you dig it up,” says Hancock. He also recommends planning your transplant around the weather.

A couple of cloudy and/or rainy days after transplanting a tree or shrub is ideal, so keep your eye on the weather in your area and plan accordingly.

7. 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.

However, Hancock cautions not to tackle this spring cleanup too early. “I like to wait to do spring cleanup until after it looks like there won’t be any hard freezes. Cleaning up your garden too early can risk exposing your perennials to the freeze-and-thaw cycle,” he says.

Just to be safe, it’s best to ensure there are no more hard freezes predicted for your area before you begin cleaning out the old mulch and leaves from your garden bed.

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 you’re 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.

8. 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.

“Compost also helps to break up heavy clay as it decomposes (and helps sandy soils retain moisture and nutrients longer), allowing plant roots to thrive,” Hancock says.

9. Add slow-release fertilizer before planting.

In addition to compost, many plants benefit from the extra boost that fertilizer can provide as well. Pavlich recommends adding slow-release fertilizer to your gardens before planting for the season.

There are two types of fertilizer you can choose from: organic slow-release fertilizers (greensand, limestone, or rock phosphate, for example) or commercially made slow-release fertilizers. Both are fine options but have their unique benefits and drawbacks.

“Slow-release, organic “simple” types are less likely to damage newly transplanted plants but perform more like a wood stove than a microwave,” says Pavlich. “Commercially-made slow-release fertilizers provide nutrition based on heat load and moisture available, usually coinciding with growth spurts of the plants.”

10. Plan your garden layout.

Lastly, now is the ideal time to plan out the final layout of your gardens for the season. This is best done when your beds are clear and you have some time to research various species of plants and their needs. 

“Consider bloom time, color palette, fragrance, and intended use, such as a cutting garden,” says Laura Walsh, director of marketing at Oasis Forage Products. “Grouping plants with similar needs simplifies maintenance tasks and promotes optimal growth and health.”

Creating a map of your gardens can be a great way to keep track of where things are planted and where seasonal plants like annuals and tender fruits and vegetables will go. You’ll thank yourself next year for creating this map!