Maintenance for Garden Beds in Spring

Garden borders

A well-planned herbaceous or mixed border can be the focal point of a garden, giving a succession of blooms from early spring to the first frost of late autumn.

Tough, relatively trouble-free and long-lived, hardy herbaceous perennials need a modicum of work for a maximum of results. Many will produce some sort of show even when they are neglected, but for the best results early to mid spring is the time to start their routine care.

Clear away any debris which has accumulated around shrubs and the crowns of dormant perennials. However, avoid treading on naturally heavy, wet soil or on soil that is sticky from thawing frost or from rain — your weight will compress the soil, which will become waterlogged if there is more rain, or will dry hard if there is a period of dry weather, because the essential air spaces within the soil have been lost.


Prune trees and large shrubs which overhang herbaceous borders if not done in winter.

Watch out for slugs during mild weather — the smaller grey slugs can destroy herbaceous plants. They usually retreat to cover during the day, but slime trails reveal their presence. Destroy these pests by drowning them in beer or salt water or by scattering slug pellets.

In about the second week of early spring, it should be safe to remove the covering of leaves or straw packed around tender plants for frost protection. Leave it in place if the plants are still dormant and the weather is poor. Overgrown clumps of perennials should be lifted and divided in spring, but this operation can be left for another month unless the soil is workable, weather conditions reasonably fine and the plants show signs of early growth.

In fact, most perennials benefit from being routinely divided every few years. The plants most likely to show early signs of regrowth are those which flower in early summer, including delphiniums and lupins.

Where perennial weeds — such as ground elder and couch grass — are found among the crowns of perennials, it is advisable to lift and divide the plants as soon as possible in spring before the weeds have time to get an even firmer hold. Using a border fork, dig up the entire clump. Shake the plants free of soil and, if the crowns are large and tough, carefully divide them using two forks back to back as levers. Break off and discard any woody parts and replant the divisions only when you have removed every trace of the weeds. New stock can also be planted now — container-grown perennials and shrubs are readily available from nurseries and garden centres, and packaged plants can be bought by mail-order. Or, plant out your own stock raised from seed.

Using a hand trowel, dig a hole large enough to contain the plant’s roots without cramping them. On light, dry soil, fill the hole with water, but watering is rarely needed in early spring on medium or heavy soil, which is still damp from winter. When the water has drained away, set the plant in position and firm down soil around the roots with your fingers. Draw drier soil around the base of the plant, firming it level.


Sow the hardiest types of annuals outdoors in the flowering site if weather and soil conditions are favourable. Suitable plants include candytuft (Iberis), clarkia, gypsophila, cornflower (Centaurea), godetia, poppy (Papaver) and pot marigold (Calendula).

To help both seeds and seedlings combat pests and diseases in the early stages, dress the seeds before sowing with a proprietary powder, shaking the powder and seeds together in the packet. To make subsequent weeding and thinning easier, sow the seeds in rows.

Bulbs, corms and tubers

Remove flower heads from narcissi and daffodils as they fade. Cut just below the dead head, leaving the stalk intact — all remaining green tissues help build up the bulb’s strength for the next year.

The last of the bulbs grown in pots or bowls indoors have finished flowering now. Plant them out- doors, removing intact the bulbs and the fibre or compost in which they were grown to encourage growth that will replenish the bulbs for future flowering.

As these bulbs are unsuitable for forcing again, plant them in clumps between shrubs, perennials or rock plants, depending on their flowering height. Narcissi, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses and some of the smaller irises can all be planted out in this way to flower again one to two years later and in subsequent springs. Tulips are less likely to succeed, but may flower again for a year or two.

Weather and soil conditions permitting, plant gladiolus corms between the second and fourth weeks of early spring. Also complete the planting of lily bulbs.

Lift, divide and replant overgrown clumps of snowdrops. They are easier to establish at this time of year, while still in leaf, than in autumn.

hybrid tea rose 'Just Joey'Roses

Complete the planting of roses as early in spring as possible, preferably in beds prepared during the autumn or winter. If the beds have not been prepared, dig them to spade depth, mixing in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure and adding a dressing of bone-meal.

Prune bush and standard roses before planting to make them easier to handle. Also cut back damaged roots and roots more than 30cm (lft) long.

In mild districts, start pruning established roses at the beginning of early spring during frost-free weather. In gardens prone to late, hard frosts, delay pruning until the end of early spring. Pruning is essential for healthy, well-shaped growth with a good show of flowers.

Shrubs and trees

Plant deciduous shrubs and trees at any time during early spring, provided that the soil is not frozen or waterlogged and that the weather is reasonably fine. Container-grown shrubs and trees, which are planted with an unbroken soil ball, can be put in now, or at any other time of year.

Dig a hole large enough to hold the roots comfortably, making sure that the top-most roots will be covered by 10cm (4in) of soil. Then position the shrub carefully with its stem vertical. With trees and tall shrubs, insert a stout stake next to the root ball (not through it). Gently replace the soil, firming it down as you go and finally treading round it. Mulch with well-rotted compost, manure or bark.

Where staking is necessary, secure the main stem or trunk with proprietary tree or shrub strap-and-buckle ties — rose ties are also suitable — or use improvised ties made from old nylon stockings or strips of plastic furnishing fabric. The stake must be left in place until the new plant is well established, otherwise wind-rock will prevent the roots from getting a firm hold in the ground.


With the exception of broad-leaved evergreens, early spring is the last opportunity in the gardening year to plant hedges grown from bare-rooted plants. If planted later, the young growth already on the plants may wilt and die while the roots try to become established.

Weeds begin to grow in early spring. Remove them from the bottoms of all hedges by pulling them up or by hoeing. Use a Dutch hoe for preference, as it is easier to push one of these tools round the congested bases of hedging plants than to use a draw hoe, which requires a chopping action. Pull up all large, deep-rooted perennial weeds by hand.

If chemical weed control is preferred, use a paraquat and diquat mixture weedkiller, taking care to keep the liquid off the leaves and stems of the hedging plants.

It is particularly important to keep newly planted hedges free from weeds, which compete with the plants by taking moisture and nourishment from the soil. Weeds may also shade the lower branches of hedging plants and either kill them or reduce their growth.

Complete the hard pruning of any large, old hedges not finished in late winter.

10. June 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Maintenance for Garden Beds in Spring


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