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How to Create a Beautiful 3-Season Garden

mulch in flower bed
Cleaning up your garden area, especially after Maryland’s warm, wet, windy winter, can be a daunting task. Use this 15-point checklist to help pace yourself so you can see progress and stay motivated while you get your flower beds and shrubs cleaned up.

Check for Signs of Growth

In Maryland, some of the earliest “proof of life” you’ll see in your flower beds are bulbs— hyacinths, crocus, daffodils— and a little later— tulips. That is, if you remembered to plant them last fall. Even if you didn’t, if you have a forsythia bush or a Kwanson cherry tree, you can still enjoy a pop of early spring color by cutting some branches before their buds open and “force them” by putting them in water indoors.

Prep the Beds

If the winter mulch you spread last fall is well-composted, work it into the soil. Clear away dead leaves, small branches, and other debris so you’re ready to plant when the time comes.

Prune

If you didn’t trim fruit trees last fall or during the winter, get the pruning shears out. Waiting until the buds on the branches have begun to bloom will stress the tree and greatly reduce your yield, so be sure to get the timing right on this. You’ll also want to prune those summer-blooming shrubs like hydrangea and viburnum before they begin to bud.

Divide Perennials

Because perennials are prone to growing in clumps, the middle of the plant can thin out, leaving a bare spot. Just before their spring growth has begun, divide your perennials at these clumps to encourage healthy new growth. Use these new little plants to fill out your own garden, or have a swap party with your gardening friends.

Survey Hardscaping

How did your deck and/or patio fare through the winter? Clear away debris and make plans to complete any necessary repairs. If you have stone walls, paths, or edging, is it buckling anywhere? And don’t forget to wipe down any outdoor furniture so you have a place to relax after a long afternoon in the garden!

Plant Early Vegetables

Thanks to the warm, wet winter, Maryland soil never experienced a prolonged hard freeze. This is perfect for the hardy, cool-season veggies like potatoes, peas, and artichokes that germinate best in cool soil. Get them in the ground as soon as possible, and your crop will be ready to harvest by in June.

Clean Bird Feeders

If you keep your bird feeders up year-round, now’s the time to give them a good scrub, rinse them well, and fill them with fresh nectar or seed.

Make Notes

As the spring bulbs like daffodils, crocus, and tulips are bursting into bloom in March and April, make a sketch of your garden and indicate where any bare spots are. You can even use neon-painted golf tees to mark these spots so you’ll know where to plant additional bulbs in the fall.

Plant Hardy Annuals

Cool-season annuals like snapdragons and pansies add a pop of color to your yard— they also look great in containers on your deck, balcony, or front porch.

Plant Shrubs and Trees

You can plant trees and shrubs as soon as your ground isn’t frozen anymore. This will allow your plants’ root systems to grow as fully as possible before the really hot temperatures descend on Maryland later in the spring and summer.

Mulch

Tuck in a fresh layer of mulch around your newly-planted trees and shrubs to protect the burgeoning root system. Spread a thick layer throughout the bed to keep down weeds.

Deadhead Bulbs

Snap off the dried-up blossoms from your spring-flowering bulbs to encourage the plant to store energy for next year’s growth. It may be a bit unsightly, but let the foliage die back on its own until it is completely yellow or dried up to ensure the healthiest new growth next spring.

Shop for Summer Annuals

No matter how early you see flats of summer annuals out in the garden centers of the big box stores, don’t be fooled. Plant after the “hard frost date” in Maryland— usually the second weekend in May. This is the time after which the National Weather Service says the area is safe from the temperature variances that can kill your favorite summer annuals like petunias, impatiens, and zinnias. When the time is right, choose flats of whatever annuals suit your garden’s exposure, remembering to choose ones with buds, not blooms, for the best performance.

Plant Warm-season Vegetables

Now’s the time to put your pepper seedlings and little tomato plants in the warm, moist ground.

Plant Summer-blooming Bulbs

Dahlias and gladiolus are summer-blooming bulbs that should be planted once there’s no more threat of frost, or the second weekend in May or later in Maryland.

We hope this 15-point spring checklist helps you enjoy a beautiful, colorful garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall!