Use the simple early, mid, and late spring garden cleanup tasks listed, and the accompanying printable checklist, to get your garden ready for summer.
This article was created in partnership with Fiskars and Gilmour. Thank you for supporting the companies that make An Oregon Cottage possible.
Are you feeling the gardening itch yet? I know I am. I’ve enjoyed the winter garden break, dreamed and planned, and now I’m ready to go. Let’s do some digging! Um…but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, does it?
No matter what your weather, sometime in March, April, or May is prime time for a spring garden cleanup – and starting as early as you can means less work later on (I speak from so.much.experience of not doing the early cleanup when I should!). Taking care of dead branches before trees leaf out, pulling small perennial spring weeds, and covering all the small new annual weeds before they get big (best thing ever!) means more time to enjoy what you love about gardening later on: planting and harvesting your flowers and vegetables, and soaking in the view.
So, when can you start? We all have different general zones based on where we live (find your garden zone around the world here) as well as your own local, garden specific zone (which may be a bit different if your garden is in a valley, etc.). Wait a bit if you still have snow, freezes, or if the soil is really wet. Your soil will thank you – and your spring garden will still be waiting for it’s cleanup when the weather allows.
Here’s a little cheat sheet calendar to help you know when you can start walking around in your garden beds and still keep them healthy (adjust to your own local weather, of course):
- Zone 7 or warmer: March 15
- Zone 6: April 1
- Zone 5: April 15
- Zone 4: May 1
- Zone 3 or colder: May 15
When your garden is ready, use the following list of easy spring garden cleanup tasks you can do, broken down into early, mid, and later spring to-dos. Be sure to grab the printable spring yard clean up checklist, too, so you can print it out, slip it into a sheet protector and take it into the garden with you. Because checking off items on your list = awesome.
Spring Garden Cleanup Tasks
- Dead and damaged branches from trees and shrubs. Prune tree branches back to the trunk using a handsaw for branches larger than ½ inch in diameter (the Fiskars Extendable Pole Saw Pruner we used worked perfect for higher branches). Use sharp bypass pruners for shrubs and small trees, shaping as you go.
- Overgrown evergreens. Cut back to the branch whose direction you want to encourage; use hedge trimmers on plants like boxwood, arborvitae, and yews.
- Fruit trees you didn’t get to in winter. TIP: prune before buds begin to break into bloom or you’ll stress the tree.
- Established summer-flowering shrubs like butterfly bushes, spireas, caryopteris, forsythias and crape myrtles. (Wondering how? Read how to prune with confidence here.) Leave any spring-flowering shrubs until early summer when they’re finished flowering for the season. I love using Fiskars PowerGear2 loppers- this is my second year using them and the gears allow me to cut old branches up to 1-1/2 inches with just my puny little arms. The more I can do myself and not have to call Brian to help is a good thing!
- Roses – the earlier the better. Cut back winter-damaged or diseased rose canes to 1 inch below the blackened area. On climbers, keep younger green canes and remove older woody ones.
Maintain paths, structures and irrigation:
- Check the soakers, drip lines or irrigation systems – are they working? Covering the area? Watering the roots?
- Inspect and clean decks, wood arbors, and fences, making repairs as needed.
- Refresh gravel or wood chips in paths.
- Check stonework for frost heaves.
Prep for vegetables:
- Remove any vegetable remains from the previous season.
- Rake on new layer of compost and seed with any hardy vegetables that will grow in your zone.
- Cover waiting beds with black plastic to kill weeds with solar heat (so easy!).
Divide perennials only when soil has thawed:
- Dig and divide perennials before the plants have started their spring growth.
- 3 year and older daylilies and hostas especially benefit from dividing.
Clean and prep beds and borders for the season:
- Pull dead plants and remove fallen leaves and dead foliage which can smother plants and foster disease. TIP: if leaves are small and starting to compost, you can work it into the top layer of the soil around the plants.
- Push any frost-heaved plants back into flower beds, tamping them down around the base with your foot.
- Loosen the mulch and other dried plant matter covering the ground around your plants to allow water and air to the roots.
- Edge along beds to refresh the lines and keep grass from growing into them.
Remove early large weeds and perennial weeds:
- Dig out all the perennial weeds you can see with a trowel (or shovel for larger infested areas), like tap-rooted dandelion (shown above top) and invasive violets (above bottom).
- Want to know how to clean up a yard full of weeds the easy way? after removing the perennial weeds, cover the rest with newspaper or cardboard and mulch! Taking care of the weeds now will reduce your weeding burden throughout the entire season, I promise.
- Use a paper-and-mulch system to simply cover up all the small spring weeds. Taking care of these now means you’ll have almost no weeding come summer! TIP: applying organic mulch on top of your garden is the single most important thing you can do for your garden every year. It prevents weeds, regulates soil temperature, retains moisture, and improves soil structure. On my established garden beds, organic mulch is the only form of fertilizer I use and my plants are healthy and lovely.
- Seed bare spots as needed.
- Apply spring fertilizer.
LATE SPRING/EARLY SUMMER
- Cover all areas of your garden for even moisture for the plants and less weeding for you- a win-win.
Deadhead spring bulbs:
- Remove spent blossoms from spring-flowering bulbs.
- Let the foliage die back before removing it, too.
Prune spring-flowering shrubs:
- Trim spent blooms of butterfly bushes, spireas, caryopteris, forsythias and crape myrtles.
- If needed, thin out overly thick branches to rejuvenate older plants.
Here’s a video Brian and I made for you, condensing this task list down to five things you can do now to be ready for summer:
Working through a spring garden cleanup list like this can keep you on track and help you to know what task to tackle and when. The result is a yard and garden ready to be enjoyed all season long with happy, thriving plants. That’s the goal – let’s encourage one another to get out there and do it!
Disclosure: I received product and/or compensation for this post. As always, the opinions, thoughts, and projects are all mine and I will NEVER promote something I don’t love and think you will find helpful – promise! For more info, you can read our entire disclosure page here.