Prep Course

Tips from the pros to get your garden ready for spring

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about the toll the winter has had on our garden and how to make sure your garden blossoms to its fullest potential.

Start with cleaning up the debris the winter has left behind. “What’s important is to assess what has happened in the winter. Walk your garden and clean up the debris that has accumulated and make sure that it’s not a place where disease can fester and collect,” says Brandon Jones, the director of design at the Glen Gate Company. Once your lawn is clear of debris, get ready to fertilize—but be sure to wait until the ground temperature is warm and that the grass starts to grow before you do. Scott Jamison, owner of Oliver Nurseries, said the best time to start is late April or early May. “You don’t want to fertilize too early because it won’t do too much good,” Jamison said, “We use a product called ‘Sustane,’ an organic, natural, turkey-based fertilizer, which is pretty amazing.”  

Jim Waters, president of Earthscapes Inc., said, “A balanced fertilizing program throughout the growing season is the best approach to care for a lawn…Adding nutrients throughout the year will net the best results.”

Make sure you avoid the common pitfalls of garden prep. Scott Fawcett, branch manager of Hoffman Landscapes, says that the biggest mistakes homeowners make with their garden are overwatering and mowing lawns too short. Fawcett explained that homeowners should water in the early morning to prevent stress and fungal disease, and that deep, infrequent watering that mimics Mother Nature is better than a few minutes a day. As far as cutting your grass—cutting at 3.5 or 4 inches instead of 2.5 means cooler soil, which will help your grass grow taller and healthier.

Before you start to plant, make sure there is no longer a chance of frost. “Wait until mid-May to plant annuals, they will be damaged if you plant them too early,” Jamison said. Jones suggests following the Mother’s Day mark as the rule of thumb.

“Everyone has a different tolerance of what they consider to be low-maintenance. We consider a lot of perennials and shrubs that really only require maintenance once or twice a year to be low-maintenance. There really is no plant that isn’t ‘no maintenance’ though,” Eva Chiamulera, landscape architect at Austin Ganim Landscape Design, said.


When it comes to maintaining your plants, all the landscape pros stressed the importance of choosing the right plant for the right location. “Planting the right plant in the right place is always the best way to keep gardens as low maintenance as possible. This will in turn ensure more sustainability for years to come,” Waters said.

“It’s best to start looking around your neighborhood. Chances are what’s going to thrive in your garden is something your neighbor has,” Fawcett said.

But when it comes to low-maintenance plants, the experts have suggestions of their own.

Chiamulera suggests planting the Little Lamb or Phantom Hydrangea. These two hydrangeas lose their leaves in the fall, so there is only fall leaf clean-up required. She said that Sweet Woodruff, Purple Mazus, and Lady in Red Fern, are perennials that only need their foliage cut down from the prior year either at the end of the season or in the late winter or early spring.

Fawcett said that the Hosta, Coneflower (Echinacea), Peony, Iris, Lilac, Butterfly bush, Ornamental grasses, Clethera, Hawthorne, and Knockout roses are trees, shrubs, and perennials that are easy to take care of—if they are in the proper environment for the specific plant. Be sure to take note of the amount of sunlight and water each plant requires.

The Endless Summer Hydrangeas and Miscanthus are among Jones’ picks for low-maintenance plants. “The hydrangeas will give you a lot of impact from the flower throughout the summer and Miscanthus adds a lot of textural interest to the garden. The Miscanthus is a great plant to let it do its thing through the winter. Don’t cut it back until early spring. Let the foliage stay through the winter,” Jones said.

“The most obvious hearty, disease-free, deer-proof plant that people are using inexpensively now are Boxwoods,” Jamison suggests. He also said that the Lilac Tree is a great choice for a flowering shrub, and the Japanese Rhododendron is a plant the deer won’t bother.

Just remember that when it comes time to start working on your garden, it’s important to choose the right plant for the right location, and look at your garden with a critical eye. “I would encourage homeowners to take a walk in their garden and set some goals for where they want the garden to be for the summer and really start to plan for what your garden is going to look like. Then you will have a clear vision for where you want to head,” Jones said.

Follow these tips, and your garden will be flourishing come the warm weather!

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