By Mark Packard

The spring birds are back and the temperatures are rising! The first full day of spring is March 21! Spring cleaning should be done as early as possible. Be careful when clearing leaves and debris, because crocus and daffodil bulbs will be popping up underneath them. Removing all leaves and debris from around shrubs and trees early in the season will prevent rot and fungus growth. If you are going to spread mulch around your trees and shrubs, pull excess mulch away first and discard it. New mulch should be applied to existing beds every year, but be careful not to bury the bottom of trees and shrubs. 

Burying the bark of trees and shrubs with mulch could rot the bark and kill them. Mulch breaks down one inch per year and amends the soil naturally. It also creates a weed barrier and holds moisture in the ground, helping to prevent your plants from drying out. 

For additional weed prevention, sprinkle Preen on the beds before mulching. This product does not kill existing plants, but does help prevent new weeds from forming.

Bark mulch is made primarily from the bark of trees and does not attract insects. There are, however, some companies that are grinding pallets and other wood products, coloring them, and calling them bark mulch. This is not the same. Make sure your mulch is made from bark, not ground wood. Most mulches are colored for consistency, but there are some products that are specifically not colored. 

Some people are starting to use decorative stone in their beds instead of bark mulch, but this is not recommended. Stone holds heat and dries out your plants. It does not create a weed barrier, and does not break down to amend the soil naturally. 

You should, however, do a one-to-two foot wide apron of stone around your house or commercial property to help prevent fire hazard, insects, and drip edge runoff. 

Fertilizing your gardens can be done with a well balanced fertilizer, like 10-10-10. You can sprinkle this granular fertilizer on the ground before mulching and gently rake into the soil to help with bigger and longer lasting blooms. 

Pruning should be done to remove any winter damage. Prune close to the main stalk or right after new growth. Do not prune back hydrangea canes, rhododendron, azalea, andromeda, or other plants that have buds from last fall. You will be cutting off your flowers. A good general rule is to prune plants right after they flower. 

Here’s a cool trick: if your forsythia is not blooming yet, cut a few branches and put them in a vase inside. They will bloom inside and give you some early spring color!

Gardening questions? Email