Spring can go by fast. “Think ahead now,” said Sharon Yiesla, plant knowledge specialist at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. “Many tasks are much easier when the plants in your garden are still relatively small.”
Here are some suggestions from the Plant Clinic.
Remove tree wraps and stakes. Take off anything you wrapped around the tree’s trunk for the winter. Leaving it on too late in the season can trap moisture that can cause decay. If you installed stakes when you planted a tree last year, remove them now. “Moving with the wind will make a young tree’s trunk stronger,” Yiesla said. The Arboretum generally does not recommend the use of tree stakes or wraps.
Install plant supports. Place peony rings and other structures that restrain floppy plants while the plant sprouts are still low. “If you get them in place in time, peonies and other perennials will grow right up through the rings,” she said.
Lay out soaker hoses. These hoses, which allow water to ooze out slowly all along their length, are a good way to conserve water and avoid getting foliage wet. They can be hard to install around mature plants that are tall and full. Instead, lay them out early in spring, winding them around sprouting perennials or along rows in vegetable gardens, and leave them in place through the season.
Start weeding. Many perennial weeds, such as creeping Charlie, start growing before garden plants sprout. They are easiest to identify and remove when they first sprout before they grow large and get tangled up with other plants. “If you weed thoroughly in spring, it will be easier to keep up with the weeding through the season,” Yiesla said.
Inspect trees and shrubs. Pest and disease problems can be harder to spot once trees and shrubs leaf out. Look them over now and get expert advice about how to deal with anything that looks suspicious.
Turn the compost pile. If you have finished compost in the pile, use it to top-dress garden beds now. Mix up any undecayed materials to introduce oxygen that will help the composing organisms multiply. “That will give your compost pile a good start, and get it ready for all the plant waste you will add through the season,” Yiesla said.
Install tomato stakes when you plant. In mid-May, when it’s safe to plant tomatoes, peppers, and other subtropical plants outdoors, have your tomato stakes or cages ready. “Don’t wait until you realize how large your tomato plant is getting,” she said.
Clean, sharpen, and sterilize your tools. Sharpen shovels and hoes with a medium-grit file. Use a diamond file or pruner sharpener to make sure your pruners and loppers have a sharp cutting edge. Use a 75% or 90% strength rubbing alcohol to sterilize them, and keep the rubbing alcohol handy to sterilize tools as you work on pruning projects. “If you don’t want to sharpen your tools yourself, many hardware stores offer that service,” Yiesla said.
For tree and plant advice, contact the Plant Clinic at The Morton Arboretum (630-719-2424, mortonarb.org/plant-clinic, or email@example.com). Beth Botts is a staff writer at the Arboretum.