photo: Zinkevych/iStock

Early Spring Gardening Tips

By Kellie Davenport

April showers bring eager gardeners to the door, anxious to plant, prune and putter. Green thumbs across Alberta rejoice with the early signs of spring—growing grass, buds on branches, birds chirping. “After that last snowfall of the season, when the ground starts to defrost, I itch to get outside,” says Lana Gress, greenhouse supervisor at Parkland Nurseries & Garden Centre in Red Deer. It’s an itch shared by many Albertans, so we asked the horticulturalist for her top tips on prepping your yard for the growing season.

TUNE-UP YOUR TOOLS
Need a gardening fix but the yard is still covered in ice? Spend some time on your tools. Wipe down shovels, rakes, lawn edgers and hoes, and give them a dose of WD-40 or other lubricant. Sharpen hoes, edgers and pruning shears with a file or stone (Parkland and other garden centres stock them). For your lawn mower, check that you emptied the gas from the tank. If you didn’t, safely dispose of the old fuel. Take a look at the oil too—it’s always a good idea to start the season with an oil change. Lastly, make sure that air filters are clean and top up the tires with air, if applicable.

SURVEY YOUR YARD
Look at the general condition of the lawn. Check for die-back—spots of yellow grass or sparse patches caused by a lack of air and sunlight during winter months. Keep an eye out for patches of thick thatch as well, since it too can block sun, moisture and air. If you find a lot of die-back and/or thatch, schedule a dethatching or aeration appointment with a lawn-care professional. They have the specialized knowledge and equipment to do the repairs without harming the lawn.

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JUST A TRIM
When it comes to pruning shrubs and trees, err on the side of caution. It’s best to leave trees alone, unless there is something visibly diseased. If you’re not sure, take a small branch clipping into Parkland or your local garden centre. For shrubs, identify which type(s) you have. If you’ve got an early-spring bloomer, don’t prune it—the buds have already developed on last season’s growth. If you’ve got a summer flowering variety, like spirea, prune it in late winter or early spring. Regardless of when you prune, never cut back more than one-third of the total plant.

MAKE THE BEDS
After the ground has defrosted, take a look at flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Many Albertans leave annuals, perennials and leaves untouched in the fall—to provide extra winter protection and nutrients from decomposition. If you opted to leave last year’s plants, cut them back a bit and clear the trimmings. Dispose of debris via municipal organic disposal programs or compost it. You can also mulch leaves back into the soil (so long as they don’t appear diseased).

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HIT THE DIRT
If your soil appears dense and heavy—or if your flowers didn’t do well last summer—add an amendment. Consider adding nutrient-rich peat moss, mushroom compost or sea soil, available at most garden centres. Dig them into the soil to provide a healthy boost of organic matter and ready it for planting. It’s also a good idea to add bone meal—a mixture of ground animal bones that adds phosphorus and protein—or blood meal, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer made of animal blood. These soil amendments will foster lush flowers and hearty vegetables.

BRUSH UP YOUR SKILLS
Before grass-cutting season really kicks in, consider taking a class or workshop to grow your garden IQ. In Red Deer, Parkland offers several options, including horticulturalist consultations, hydroponics and landscape design, plus crafty workshops for making the likes of macramé planters and hanging moss baskets.

HOW TO SAVE
AMA members save 10% on regular-price items at Parkland Nurseries & Garden Centre