If you have recently purchased or inherited a house with an existing garden on the property, and you are not experienced gardeners, here are some basic things to do for spring cleanup:
- Once the snow has melted and the soil has thawed, remove any fallen twigs and dead plants from the garden beds. (Buy a pair of garden hand pruners for cutting back plants) Put all of this debris into lawn bags for the DPW to pick up. If there are leaves on the beds, I recommend that you do not remove them. Many small insects have overwintered, laid their eggs in the leaves, and have begun the leaf breakdown process. The leaves will continue to break down into a natural enriching leaf mulch similar to what you see the woods.
- You may want to have your soil tested to learn the nutrients it needs. Contact the UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab for a routine soil analysis which costs only $15.00. http://soiltest.umass.edu/ Once you receive the results, ask a lab technician at UMass, or an expert at a local garden center to help you understand what your soil needs.
- Whether you get the soil tested, or not, I recommend that you apply a two inch layer of organic compost across the garden beds and work it gently into the leaves and the soil. Use either shrimp/seaweed or lobster compost, or composted horse or cow manure. Compost contains nutrients and microbiotic life which are beneficial to soil health. If there are no leaves on the beds, apply a three inch layer of organic mulch on the beds to keep the weeds back and the soil moist.
- All plants need at least 1 inch of water per week. A heavy rain which deposits about 3/4 of an inch of water on the ground, should keep the garden irrigated for about four days. If there is no underground irrigation system, for conservation purposes use drip hoses at night or very early morning when evaporation loss is minimal. Use sprinklers only during the day, because overhead watering at night leaves plants susceptible to disease.
- Pay attention to the plants that come up in the spring. Once the flowers have faded and died, cut them off. This is known as dead heading. Watch for any signs of leaf damage; such as leaf discoloration or small holes in the leaves. There may be a leaf fungal disease or harmful leaf eating insects present.
- Get gardening advice from neighbors with healthy gardens, from knowledgeable garden center employees, or from a professional gardener.To learn more about gardening on your own, join a local garden club, take a beginner gardening class, read garden magazines and books, and search the internet for helpful gardening information.