In the early part of spring, after the snow has melted and before new growth has started for the season, gardeners can remove last year’s decaying growth. We call this decaying plant material ‘duff’. Duff is a wonderful thing to let stand throughout the winter months as it provides habitat and food for over wintering birds, helps to insulate the ground during the coldest days of the year, and it can provide visual interest in the garden throughout winter. Once temperatures begin to rise, however, new growth will start to peak up through the soil and it will be good to have last year’s duff out of the way. Not only does this help to warm the soil by providing a little extra sunlight, it can be a very exciting time visually as well. Fresh new green popping up in the garden is a most welcome sign of the warm seasons to come.
There are many species of weeds that will take advantage of this time of the year. Cool season weeds will start to germinate in the spaces between your desired raingarden plants. This is an excellent time for pulling these weeds out before they become established. Typically, your desired perennial plants will have a larger more distinct clump as well as a designed pattern in the garden. Raingarden design employs multiple specimens of the same species organized into groups. This can be another clue to help in identifying which plants will want to be left, because weeds are very randomly spaced.
Spring is a good time to assess your mulch. New mulch is more easily applied in the spring because plant material has not grown in the way. It is easier to see bare spots where mulch is thin and soil is peaking through. A good rule of thumb for mulch is to maintain a 3” layer. This will provide a good barrier against weeds and will help to keep the soil moist for desired plants. Remember to always use double shredded hardwood mulch in raingardens because it binds together and doesn’t float during large rain events. Check the Blue Thumb webpage for local distributors of double shredded hardwood mulch. It is typically available in bags or in bulk and can be either picked up or delivered for a small fee.
Spring is also an appropriate time for replanting any bare spots in the garden. There are many options for how to approach replanting. By following the planting plan for a project, gardeners can choose to use the same plant variety they have in the design and replace missing plants with what is shown in the plan. Another option is to replace with a different type of plant altogether. This is a particularly good approach if several plants of the same species have completely died out. Perhaps the designed plant variety is not as well suited as the designer had originally thought and some experimenting with a new variety might warrant better results. Replacing with a new variety can be a fun way for participants to further engage and take ownership of their garden. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Thumb Plant Selector Tool can be an invaluable resource for choosing plants and learning a given plants’ characteristics.
Another great activity for spring gardening can be the division of established perennials. This is an activity for more established plant material that has reached maturity. Many varieties of established perennial plants can be dug up completely from their home in the garden and then divided into smaller specimens for use in other areas of the yard. This can be particularly useful for gardeners wishing to add another raingarden to their yard without the expense of purchasing new plants. Spring is the best time for division and transplanting because it gives transplants time to establish new roots throughout the coming growing season. A good rule of thumb is to try and find specimens for transplanting just after the new foliage has begun to peak up out of the soil. With a little research online, gardeners can discern which of their plants would be most appropriate for division and use in other spots of their yard.