Tara Nolan is a garden writer and co-owner of SavvyGardening.com, a site dedicated to cultivating curiosity and confidence in the garden. Here’s her spring checklist for all you need to do, buy and plant right now to get your garden blooming by summer.
YOU MUST PREP
Rake leaves, clear debris and cut dead leaves and branches from your plants. Gently check perennials like hostas for mushy leaves. “Really be careful when you’re clearing stuff out of the garden – be sure not to just claw away and grab it out, because there might be a lot of tender shoots coming up,” says Nolan. “So if you’re taking away the old leaves from last year, just make sure you’re not harming new ones underneath.”
“One good way to guarantee a good summer garden is to add a layer of compost,” says Nolan. That could be compost you create yourself, or a product you purchase from a garden centre. Nolan likes to use mushroom compost, shrimp compost and manure.
Add plant supports to species that might eventually flop. Nolan recalls her own struggles with this, noting, “My peonies, for example, they always come up beautifully, and then one big rain storm and they flop right over because I’ve forgotten to add cages to them when they’re actually small, and it’s impossible to do once they start growing too high.” Nolan also recommends planting tomatoes in cages, since adding support later can damage their stems.
Weed it up
There’s no garden guarantee as sure as the need to weed. Start now, and don’t stop till the snow falls. “If you start now you can sort of keep on top of it for the season,” laughs Nolan.
“Familiarize yourself with different areas of your garden,” suggests Nolan, “because you might have really hot, sunny areas and parts that are a bit more shady.” She stresses that you read the plant tags and purchase accordingly for those different areas. Garden centres are naturally organized according to conditions, with sun-loving plants in the open and shade plants under cover, but don’t be afraid to ask for help – the more you know about your garden’s conditions, the better garden centre employees can advise you.
WHAT YOU NEED TO BUY
Thankfully you don’t need a ton of fancy equipment to maintain a good garden. “I just use the very basics,” says Nolan. She recommends investing in a good quality weeder, trowel, loppers and pruners – Fiskars and Felco are both tried-and-true brands. Additionally, a bucket to carry tools and plants is useful, as are gardening gloves with thick rubber palms to protect against dampness and thorns.
In the useful, but not essential category, Nolan lists a quality shovel for edging garden beds, and long rose gloves to protect skin when trimming thorny rosebushes or irritating trees and shrubs.
Where to buy
Nolan suggests hitting up your local garden centre, big box store or grocery store for plants and supplies, and doesn’t endorse one centre over another – the store that’s most convenient for you is the best one.
How to score
Visit Kijiji, Used Everywhere and local yard sales for deals on used items; for new supplies, bide your time and look to end-of-season sales in July and August, when most garden centres close down and clear out their discounted stock.
WHAT TO PLANT
Canada’s capricious and varied weather conditions mean there’s no planting strategy that works for every region, every year, so if you’re not sure what to plant and when, you’re definitely not alone. Nolan suggests asking at your local garden centre, checking The Old Farmer’s Almanac annual guide for your region, or following these general weather cues:
When the temperature varies between 7-20°C, with occasional frost
Plant peas and lettuce in early spring, about four to six weeks before the last frost. Peas grow best when they’re planted early, but lettuce can be sown throughout the spring and summer. Carrot, beet and kale seeds can also be planted at this time.
When temperature is consistently 10°C or higher, with no danger of frost
“Veggies that like the heat, such as peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, shouldn’t be planted until nighttime temperatures remain consistently above about 10 degrees,” says Nolan. “The same goes for annuals, like zinnias and marigolds. The soil should be warm to the touch.”
Small yard strategies
Space is an issue in many city gardens, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo all shrubs. New breeds like quick fire hydrangeas from Proven Winners are a compact option for decorative gardens.
Big yard strategies
With big space comes big possibility. Depending on conditions, you might be able to have a shade garden and a sun garden, to grow decorative plants and vegetables, but Nolan suggests beginner gardeners focus on one new area each year to avoid being overwhelmed.
No yard strategies
“People think ‘Oh, I don’t have space for a vegetable garden’, but you can create your own vegetable garden out of a bunch of pots if you’ve got a nice sunny spot,” says Nolan.
Flower garden strategies
Fresh veggies (and their upkeep) aren’t for everyone. If you love decorating with ornamentals – inside and out – consider dedicating an out-of-the-way spot to growing vase cuts so you never have to sacrifice your show garden for pretty centerpieces.
Lazy gardener strategies
With bee and monarch butterfly populations in decline, plants that attract pollinators are good for your garden and the environment at large. Nolan recommends nectar rich flowers like milkweed, bachelor’s buttons and zinnia.
You’ve got this
“I think people are intimidated and think, ‘Oh, I have a black thumb, I can’t garden,’ but with just a little bit of knowledge it’s actually a lot easier than a lot of people think.” Nolan’s favourite resources for new gardeners are Garden Making magazine, The Pruning Answer Book, Get Busy Gardening and Savvy Gardening.