At the time of this writing (mid-April) it seems doubtful spring is actually coming this year, with temperatures running well below seasonal — so working the garden still seems pretty far off. But by the time you read this in early May, the new season should have seriously sprung. If not, put this article away and come back in a few days. Thinking about gardening is too depressing when you still have to wear parkas and wool mittens outdoors.
But even if spring has arrived in seeming full force and you’re down to t-shirt and sneakers, be aware that we can still get frosts at night well into mid-May in these parts. Be sure the destructive late frosts have finally departed before risking planting your more vulnerable plants.
And in case you do get caught planting prematurely and learn that frost is forecast when you already have tender shoots in the ground, be ready to cover your babies overnight.
In the meantime you can start cleaning up your property:
• Get your wheelbarrow out and start clearing away winter’s detritus.
• Repair your fences and trellises. It’s easier to do this now than later in the year when foliage and roots will be in your way.
• Early in the season is the time to prune fruit trees, before buds turn into bloom, (hough hold off pruning your other trees and bushes a little longer until the new growth is apparent and you can remove any unhealthy, dead or undesirable branches.
• Fix the fallen sides of any raised flower beds.
• Hoe your garden’s borders to keep the weeds at bay.
• Eliminate whatever weeds have already taken hold on your lawn, flowerbeads, patios and pathways.
• As your garden soil starts softening up in the warmer weather, you can also begin adding general purpose fertilizer and then covering the beds with mulch. (You have been composting to create your own mulch haven’t you? If not, start now!)
Some experts say to prepare your garden for planting by rototilling the soil to at least 20 centimetres (eight inches) to work in the fertilizer. But if your garden beds are healthy from past years’ caring, you likely can get away with breaking up the soil with a spade in rows ready for your planting. Mulch can be added to a depth of seven to 10 centimetres.
You can also cover the beds with black plastic sheeting, until you’re ready to plant. Again, it’s to keep the weeds away (a constant theme you’ll notice in this season’s tasks).
At this time of year, you’re on safest ground to plant flowers that can withstand cool spring nights — pansies, snap dragons and certain other fragrant flowering plants. By the end of May however you can expand into a wider variety of flora, like begonias and cannas.
You can also plant some resilient bulbs like gladiolas, daffodils and crocus now for summer bloom, although you should hold off on others, like dahlias, until you are sure the frosts are a thing of the past.
Vegetables that do well in early May’s cool climates include peas, lettuce, spinach, and other green, leafy items, plus some root crops like carrots, turnips and onions. Next up are cabbages, broccoli, potatoes, radishes and the increasingly popular kale.
Hold off on tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and the like just a little longer for slightly warmer weather.
Early spring is also a good time to add a new tree to your yard. Your ground is ready for it to go in as soon as it’s no longer frozen.